Chase Elliott may not be a playoff driver, but he has kept his No. 9 team in contention for this year’s NASCAR Cup Series owner championship.
Chase Elliott’s No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team has advanced from the round of 12 to the round of 8 in this year’s NASCAR Cup Series owner playoffs, despite the fact that Elliott himself failed to qualify for the postseason for the first time in his eight-year career.
Elliott missed seven of the 26 regular season races and did not win any of the other 19, but the points scored by his replacements vaulted the team ahead of Bubba Wallace’s No. 23 23XI Racing team for the 16th and final spot in the owner playoffs.
So while Wallace himself was the 16th and final playoff driver instead of Elliott, his No. 23 team did not get into the owner playoffs, meaning that the playoffs technically began with 17 drivers still competing for either a driver championship, an owner championship, or both.
A strong round of 16 from Elliott got the No. 9 team into the round of 12, and because Wallace advanced to the round of 12 in the driver playoffs, all four of the drivers who were eliminated after the round of 16 also saw their teams eliminated.
But things were not nearly as straightforward in the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
Wallace was unable to advance, while Elliott had another strong round to propel the No. 9 team forward. This also resulted in a totally unrelated driver, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., being affected.
With Elliott not in the driver playoffs, Truex finished the round of 12 as the eighth and final driver to secure a spot in the round of 8, with Wallace and three others finishing behind him and thus finding themselves eliminated.
But because Truex No. 19 team finished behind Elliott’s No. 9 team and was therefore ninth (ahead of just the three non-Wallace teams, since Wallace’s team wasn’t a playoff team), the No. 19 team was eliminated from the owner playoffs.
So heading into the round of 8, we have seen a driver whose team didn’t make the playoffs advance to (and be eliminated in) the round of 12, a team whose driver didn’t make the playoffs advance to the round of 8, and, because of the resulting differences in the driver/owner cut lines, a totally different driver advance to the round of 8 despite his team being eliminated in the round of 12.
Oh, how NASCAR fans all love the playoff format.
And the complications may not end here.
Because there are still differences in terms of who is alive in the driver playoffs and the owner playoffs, we could end up seeing a similar situation in which a totally unrelated driver/team become affected ahead of the Championship 4.
Last year, in fact, we saw Kyle Larson’s No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team advance to the Championship 4 while Elliott’s No. 9 team didn’t. Yet Larson had already been eliminated in the round of 12, and Elliott himself advanced to the Championship 4.
We could end up in a situation where Truex wins the championship despite his team having been eliminated in the round of 12, while Elliott’s No. 9 team wins the owner championship despite Elliott himself being able to finish no higher than 17th place in the standings as a non-playoff driver.
The round of 8 opener is the South Point 400, which is scheduled to take place on Sunday, October 15 at 2:30 p.m. ET. This race is set to be broadcast live on NBC from Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Begin a free trial of FuboTV now and don’t miss it!