If Chase Elliott manages to secure the NASCAR Cup Series owner championship for his No. 9 team, fans are going to be left asking “what if?” heading into the offseason.
For the first time since 2015, when he was not yet a full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver, the playoffs are being contested without Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott as a championship contender.
The driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet posted a points per race average during the regular season that ranked among the top 10 in the series, but because he missed six races with injury and one due to a suspension, his lack of wins ultimately kept him out of the postseason for the first time in his eight-year career.
However, because his replacements during his seven absences were still able to score points for the No. 9 team, the No. 9 team ended up beating out the No. 23 team of 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace for the 16th and final spot in the owner playoffs, even though Wallace secured the 16th and final spot in the driver playoffs.
As a result, Chase Elliott entered the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs still with a championship to fight for.
Thus far, he has had success. With three straight top eight finishes in the round of 16, he comfortably got the No. 9 team into the round of 12, and with three more top 11 finishes in the round of 12, he again comfortably advanced the No. 9 team to the round of 8, despite having entered the second round with just one playoff point.
All of the other remaining teams had double digit playoff point totals, making the No. 9 team’s sixth straight round of 8 appearance arguably even more impressive.
The 27-year-old Dawsonville, Georgia native’s deep round playoff experience, which includes the 2020 championship and a series-high three straight Championship 4 appearances, has been on full display, even as his final position in this year’s point standings is capped at 17th place.
But as much as Elliott and the sport’s single largest driver fanbase would enjoy watching him win one or more of the season’s final four races and delivering the No. 9 team an owner championship, it’s somewhat of a Catch-22 situation.
The NASCAR driver and owner playoffs work the exact same way when it comes to playoff points, round advancements, etc.
So if Elliott manages to win the owner championship for the No. 9 team, you can almost assuredly say that, had he been a playoff driver himself, he would have been crowned champion for the second time in the last four years.
What if he had gotten into the playoffs?
What if he had not had his snowboarding injury or his suspension for wrecking Denny Hamlin at Charlotte Motor Speedway?
What if he had won one of the many races he came close to winning in the regular season?
To some extent, you get the feeling that fans of the Most Popular Driver are kind of hoping the No. 9 team comes up just shy of the owner title to avoid an offseason full of “what if?”
But it’s safe to assume that all Elliott fans at least want to see him to extend his five-year winning streak — and perhaps even his series-high five-year multi-race winning streak — over the course of the next four weekends.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway is scheduled to open up the round of 8 this Sunday, October 15 with the South Point 400, which is set to be broadcast live on NBC beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET. The March race at Las Vegas was the first race Elliott missed this year with his broken left tibia. Start a free trial of FuboTV now if you have not already done so and don’t miss it!