NASCAR poised for huge ratings drop during playoffs?

Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

Will the absence of Chase Elliott from the NASCAR Cup Series playoff field result in a drop in ratings over the four-round, 10-race postseason?

NASCAR saw a significant dip in ratings when five-time reigning Most Popular Driver Award winner Chase Elliott was sidelined for six races in March and April with a fractured tibia he suffered in a snowboarding accident.

The same occurred in June, when he was suspended for the race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway for retaliating against Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

So with the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet having failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in his eight-year career, ending streaks of seven consecutive round of 12 appearances, seven consecutive top 10 points finishes, six consecutive round of 8 appearances, three consecutive Championship 4 appearances, and 134 consecutive races as a championship-eligible driver, are ratings poised to tank this postseason?

It’s definitely possible and maybe even likely, with Elliott not aiming to become a two-time champion over the next 10 weeks. However, even a dip probably won’t be nearly as disastrous as it was when it was all but inevitable during his seven unexpected absences earlier in 2023.

Fans still tuned in to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. when he missed the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, and they’re still going to tune in to see Chase Elliott.

This is much different than what we saw earlier this season for one key reason: Elliott is still set to compete on a weekly basis. It’s not like his past playoff eliminations have resulted in poor ratings the rest of the year. This time around, his elimination just happened to come early.

And believe it or not, there’s actually another big reason why No. 9 fans should keep their screens on. Their driver is still technically in the battle for the championship.

Not much is usually made of the owner playoffs, since the drivers who qualify for the playoffs generally drive the same cars every week, but this year, Elliott’s No. 9 team, not Wallace’s No. 23 team, locked up the 16th and final spot on the owner side.

While Elliott himself didn’t score as many points as Wallace, the points scored by Elliott’s replacements in the seven races he missed still count toward the No. 9 team’s playoff total, and its point total from all 26 regular season races was higher than that of the No. 23 team.

This marks the second consecutive season in which there have been 17 drivers with a championship to fight for, not just the 16 official playoff drivers.

Last year, 23XI Racing’s Kurt Busch gave up his playoff spot due to injury, but his regular season win at Kansas Speedway kept the No. 45 team in the owner playoffs. While Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney got Busch’s playoff spot, Blaney’s No. 12 team still didn’t make it.

23XI Racing moved Wallace from his usual No. 23 Toyota to the No. 45 Toyota for the playoffs. Even though he was not a playoff driver and thus not championship eligible himself, he was the No. 45 team’s representative in the battle for the owner championship and thus one of 17, not 16, drivers competing for a title.

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The playoffs are scheduled to begin this Sunday, September 3 with the Cook Out Southern 500, which is set to be broadcast live on USA Network from Darlington Raceway beginning at 6:00 p.m. ET. How will ratings look in the first race without Chase Elliott as a championship contender since November 2019? Begin a free trial of FuboTV today and don’t miss it!