Despite being eliminated, Chase Elliott is one of 17 drivers still competing for a NASCAR Cup Series championship. How did he become eligible?
For the first time in his eight-year NASCAR Cup Series career, Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott failed to qualify for the playoffs. Even with a top 10 average in points per race, he could not overcome his seven missed starts during the 26-race regular season.
In a must-win situation in the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway, he placed fourth, guaranteeing an end to Cup Series-high streaks of seven straight round of 12 appearances, seven straight top 10 points finishes, six straight round of 8 appearances, three straight Championship 4 appearances, and 134 straight races of championship eligibility.
However, there are 17 drivers, not 16, still competing for a championship this year, and Elliott is one of them.
Why is Chase Elliott in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs?
While Elliott didn’t make it on the driver side, the No. 9 team did on the owner side, as the points scored by his replacements during his seven absences, highlighted by Josh Berry’s runner-up finish at Richmond Raceway, count toward the team’s total. As the full-driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet, Elliott is the No. 9 team’s representative in the owner playoffs.
23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace locked up the 16th and final spot in the driver playoffs in the regular season finale, but Elliott’s No. 9 team ultimately scored more points than Wallace’s No. 23 team throughout the regular season to secure the 16th and final spot in the owner playoffs, eliminating the No. 23 team.
This is also why the 27-year-old Dawsonville, Georgia native is grouped with the playoff drivers when it comes to the qualifying metric. So while there have naturally been a handful of ignorant fans suggesting that NASCAR has rigged the sport by allowing their most popular driver into the postseason, it does help to know the rules before promoting such foolishness.
Not much is usually made about the driver playoffs compared to the owner playoffs, since the playoff drivers are generally drivers who drive the same cars on a weekly basis, but a similar situation unfolded a year ago.
Elliott is in the same position that Wallace was in last year. 23XI Racing Wallace moved from the No. 23 Toyota to the No. 45 Toyota for the playoffs after Kurt Busch withdrew from the postseason due to his injury.
While Busch’s spot in the driver playoffs went to Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, his Kansas Speedway win remained tied to the No. 45 team; their spot in the owner playoffs did not go to Blaney’s No. 12 team.
With Wallace driving the No. 45 Toyota and the No. 45 team still alive in the owner playoffs, he too was one of 17 drivers still competing for a championship, despite the fact that he had already been eliminated by failing to qualify for the postseason.
He ended up winning the round of 16 race at Kansas to carry the No. 45 team to the round of 12, where they were ultimately eliminated.
The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series driver and owner playoffs are scheduled to get underway this Sunday, September 3 at Darlington Raceway. USA Network is set to provide live coverage starting at 6:00 p.m. ET, so begin a free trial of FuboTV now and don’t miss it!