NASCAR: Major relief if a certain driver misses playoffs?

Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images) /

Chase Elliott has one last chance to qualify for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. But his absence would provide a sense of relief for others.

It’s no secret that Chase Elliott and the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team have not had the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season they wanted, starting early on with Elliott’s fractured tibia, which sidelined him for six races in March and April.

Then in May, he got himself suspended for an early June race due to an intentional act of retaliation on Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

With 18 starts in 25 races, the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet finds himself winless and in a must-win situation heading into the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night.

If Elliott does not win this 160-lap Coke Zero Sugar around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) high-banked Daytona Beach, Florida oval, quite a few streaks, including three that currently lead the series, will come to an end.

The 27-year-old Dawsonville, Georgia native has qualified for the playoffs seven times in seven seasons since becoming a full-time driver in 2016. He is also seven for seven in terms of advancing from the round of 16 to the round of 12. No other driver has been a part of each of the seven most recent rounds of 12.

Elliott hasn’t even missed the round of 8 since 2016, so his series-long streak of six round of 8 appearances would also come to an end. The 2020 champion is also the only driver who has been in each of the three most recent Championship 4s, as he hasn’t missed the winner-take-all round since 2019.

So Saturday’s race is set to be the 134th consecutive race in which he is still eligible to win a respective season’s championship, dating back to the 2020 season-opening Daytona 500.

The next highest streaks belong to Team Penske’s Joey Logano, Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain, and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell at 62 races apiece.

There are 17 drivers still eligible to take the 16th and final NASCAR Cup Series playoff spot heading into Saturday night’s race, including six who qualified for last year’s playoffs.

Of those 17, Hamlin believes that Elliott is the obvious answer when it comes to who he doesn’t want to have to deal with over the course of the 10 playoff races, given the fact that he is always a contender.

“The obvious one would be Chase Elliott,” Hamlin told Beyond the Flag. “He’s a past champion. He’s a guy who makes the round of 8 just about every year that he’s part of it.

“Is it selfish to say that I hope he doesn’t make it? Maybe. But that’s the competitor in me, right? You’d rather him not. I think it’s been a tough year certainly for that No. 9 team, but I just wouldn’t expect anything but for them to be up front battling for a race win tonight. So you just never know.”

Elliott is a three-time superspeedway winner who won twice at drafting tracks in year number one of the Next Gen era last season, but a win at the Daytona oval continues to elude him.

And it would be hard to believe that Hamlin is the only one who would like for that win to continue to elude him, thus placing Elliott in the battle for 17th place in the standings instead of the battle for the 2023 championship.

FanDuel Sportsbook, which is giving fans an instant $200 simply for signing up and betting $5 on the Coke Zero Sugar 400, lists Elliott at +1200, making him the second favorite to win the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale.

Odds and availability are subject to change, so lock in your guaranteed $200 now before it’s too late!

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The Coke Zero Sugar 400 is set to be broadcast live on NBC from Daytona International Speedway beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET this Saturday, August 26. If you have not already begun a free trial of FuboTV, take advantage and do so now!