Chase Elliott entered the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season as the championship favorite. He now finds himself locked into a 10-week battle for 17th place.
It was hard to argue against Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott being the preseason favorite to win the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series championship, given what he accomplished during the first season of the Next Gen era last year.
He led all drivers in race wins, laps led, average finish, and total points scored. He secured the regular season championship before the regular season finale, and he qualified for the Championship 4 for a series-best third straight year.
En route to his third straight championship round appearance, he also extended his series-best streaks of round of 12 berths (seven in seven seasons) and round of 8 berths (six).
The driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet looked good through the first two races of the 2023 season. He was taken out in another driver’s mess in the season-opening Daytona 500, but he bounced back with a runner-up finish the following weekend at Auto Club Speedway in late February.
Unfortunately for Chase Elliott, he never saw the plus side of the playoff cut line again during the NASCAR Cup Series regular season.
Between the races at Auto Club Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, NASCAR’s most popular driver was involved in a snowboarding accident which left him sidelined for six weeks with a fractured left tibia.
Naturally, comparisons were made to the time Kyle Busch missed 11 races and went on to win his way into the playoffs — and then the championship — in 2015. But despite solid results here and there, Elliott’s season never truly got off the ground.
He also didn’t do himself any favors in late May at Charlotte Motor Speedway, when he intentionally wrecked Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin as an act of retaliation for the way Hamlin had been racing him in prior laps. NASCAR suspended him for the following weekend’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway as a result.
Elliott still had a potential path to qualify for the playoffs on points, but lackluster results throughout the month of July, an untimely tire issue at Michigan International Speedway in August, and a bizarre situation which saw him run out of fuel at Watkins Glen International two weekends ago put him into a must-win situation heading into the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway.
He did lead a couple of laps, but he had to settle for fourth place. The 16th and final playoff spot went to 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace, who needed the race winner not to be a new winner such as Elliott in order to secure his first career playoff berth.
This is not the first time in recent years we have seen a former champion miss the playoffs. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson missed the postseason in 2019 and 2020, and this year’s regular season champion, 2017 series champion Martin Truex Jr., missed last year’s playoffs.
Joey Logano wasn’t a champion at the time, but he also missed the 2017 playoffs after his lone win of the regular season was encumbered. He went on to win the title the following year and has since added another.
Still, none of those drivers were the preseason favorites.
While it will be of little consolation to the sport’s largest driver fanbase, Elliott did manage to get the No. 9 team into the owner playoffs over Wallace’s No. 23 team. The points scored by Elliott’s replacements in his seven missed races vaulted the No. 9 team above the No. 23 team for the 16th and final spot.
Truex is now listed as this year’s championship favorite at FanDuel Sportsbook, which is offering fans $200 just for betting $5.
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USA Network is set to broadcast the playoff-opening Cook Out Southern 500 live from Darlington Raceway beginning at 6:00 p.m. ET this Sunday, September 3. Start a free trial of FuboTV now and don’t miss it!