Chase Elliott has taken his No. 9 team to the round of 8 of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, even though he is not a playoff driver himself.
Though he is not a playoff driver, Chase Elliott has thrown somewhat of a wrench into this year’s NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, given his success in taking the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team to the round of 8 following a consistent stretch of races in both the round of 16 and round of 12.
Elliott missed the playoffs this year for the first time in his eight-year career after missing more than a quarter of the 26-race regular season. He was unable to win any of the 19 races in which he competed, and while his points per race average was still among the top 10 in the series, it wasn’t good enough to get him into the postseason.
However, the No. 9 team was able to swipe the 16th and final spot in the owner playoffs from the No. 23 team of 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace, because of the fact that Elliott’s replacements in the seven races he missed still scored points. So while Wallace himself was the 16th and final driver to lock into the postseason, his team was left on the outside looking in.
And now the ramifications of Elliott’s No. 9 team getting in over Wallace’s No. 23 team have affected a totally unrelated driver — and could affect others.
Both Elliott’s No. 9 team and Wallace advanced from the round of 16 to the round of 12 in their respective playoffs, meaning that the four drivers who were eliminated following the round of 16 also saw their teams eliminated on the owner side.
But no such scenario unfolded in the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
Wallace did not advance, while Elliott had another strong round to propel the No. 9 team forward. And because of this, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. ended up being affected.
With Elliott not a factor in the driver playoffs, Truex was the eighth and final driver to secure a spot in the round of 8, as Wallace and three others finished behind him and were eliminated.
However, Truex’s No. 19 team finished behind Elliott’s No. 9 team and was therefore ninth in the owner playoff picture, ahead of just the three non-Wallace teams (again, Wallace’s team isn’t a playoff team).
So despite Truex himself advancing to the round of 8, the No. 19 team will not go beyond the round of 12.
All things considered, a driver whose team didn’t make the playoffs advanced to the round of 12, a team whose driver didn’t make the playoffs has advanced to the round of 8, and now a totally different driver has advanced to the round of 8 despite his team having been eliminated in the round of 12.
The complications might not end there either, given the fact that the driver and owner playoffs still technically feature two different fields and thus two different cut lines, as there are effectively still nine drivers, not just eight, fighting for one or both of the championships.
Just look at last year, when Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney made it to the round of 8 despite his No. 12 team not being a playoff team, Elliott’s No. 9 team was eliminated in the round of 8 despite Elliott himself advancing to the Championship 4, and Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson being eliminated in the round of 12 despite his No. 5 team advancing to the Championship 4.
It all happened because of the cut line discrepancies resulting from the fact that Kurt Busch’s No. 45 23XI Racing team qualified for the owner playoffs and retained its spot, despite Busch himself withdrawing due to a head injury. Wallace, who was not a playoff driver at the time, managed to get the No. 45 team to the round of 12 of the owner playoffs.
The South Point 400 is scheduled to get the round of 8 underway this Sunday, October 15 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race is set to be broadcast live on NBC beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET. If you have yet to start a free trial of FuboTV, do so today!