While Chase Elliott didn’t qualify for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, his No. 9 team qualified for the owner playoffs.
Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott entered the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway needing to win to secure an eighth consecutive playoff berth, and he came up just short with a fourth place finish.
In more ways than one, Elliott’s season did not go according to plan. The driver who led everybody in wins, laps led, average finish, and total points scored in year number one of the Next Gen car never really got it going in 2023, and his two unexpected absence periods played a significant role in that struggle.
Elliott missed six races in March and April after suffering a fractured left tibia in a snowboarding accident, and he missed a race in June after NASCAR suspended him for an on-track act of retaliation on Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin.
Though his average points per race tally would have placed him inside the top 10 in the point standings had he run all 26 races instead of just 19, he needed to do better than that to make up for his seven missed starts. After missing more than a quarter of the regular season, it became clearer and clearer down the stretch that it was going to take a win.
And for the first time since the 2017 regular season, Chase Elliott failed to win a NASCAR Cup Series race before the playoffs.
Had Elliott managed to win Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400, he would have gotten into the playoffs instead of 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace.
Wallace entered the 163-lap race around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) occupying the 16th and final spot in the provisional playoff picture, and after the two drivers who still mathematically had a chance to pass him on points were no longer able to do so, he knew that he was safe as long as a new winner such as Elliott did not emerge.
The race was won by RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher, who had already won twice this year, so Wallace found himself locked into the playoffs for the first time in his six-year career. However, the 16th and final spot in the owner playoffs went to Elliott’s No. 9 team, not Wallace’s No. 23 team.
The reason for this is because of the fact that owner points are tied to the car, not the driver. So the points scored by Elliott’s replacements in the seven races he missed boosted the point total of the No. 9 team. Josh Berry finished as high as second place at Richmond Raceway in his five starts behind the wheel of the No. 9 Chevrolet.
So despite being eliminated from championship contention, Elliott is still representing the No. 9 team in the owner playoffs, and the No. 9 team can still win the title. And despite being eliminated from owner championship contention, the No. 23 team still has a driver who could end up being crowned champion.
Elliott’s situation is ironically similar to the situation Wallace was in last year, when 23XI Racing moved him from the No. 23 Toyota to the No. 45 Toyota for the playoffs.
Kurt Busch had qualified for the playoffs by winning a regular season race, but he withdrew due to injury and his spot went to Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney. However, Busch’s No. 45 team, not Blaney’s No. 12 team, still qualified for the owner playoffs, thanks to Busch’s win.
Wallace was the No. 45 team’s representative in the owner playoffs and was effectively still competing for a championship, even as a non-playoff driver, which is exactly what Elliott is set to do this year.
Meanwhile, Wallace is set to compete for this year’s driver championship while his team can finish no higher than 17th place in the owner standings, which is exactly the situation in which Blaney found himself in 2022.
The Cook Out Southern 500 is scheduled to get the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs underway this Sunday, September 3 at Darlington Raceway. USA Network is set to broadcast the race live beginning at 6:00 p.m. ET. Begin a free trial of FuboTV today!