Chase Elliott said Saturday night that missing the playoffs for the first time in his Cup Series career is a “bummer,” but it provides a learning experience.
“I appreciate everybody’s support through this season that hasn’t been what I would want by any means,” Elliott said after finishing fourth in the Cup regular-season finale. “But certainly going to be some lessons taken from it, and I think we’ll be better for it on the other end.”
Elliott fails to make the playoffs for an eighth consecutive year after missing seven races this season — six for injury and one for suspension. This dropped him well below the playoff cutline as the end of the regular season approached.
Elliott had an opportunity to point his way into the playoffs, but a crash at Michigan and a fuel issue at Watkins Glen put him in a must-win situation at Daytona.
The 2020 Cup champion did what he could at the superspeedway. He avoided a 16-car incident at the end of stage 2, and he put himself on the second row for the start of overtime. He just couldn’t cap the night with a win due to the teamwork of the RFK Racing drivers.
“I feel like we had an OK chance there, but Brad (Keselowski) and (winner Chris Buescher) just worked so well together there and they were able to stay locked-on,” Elliott said after the race. “They were so locked-on there … they just had a strangle-hold on the top lane.
“Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get to Kevin (Harvick) and stay there like that, and just make the bottom lane work. I kind of bottled it up there and just couldn’t get enough momentum going forward.”
There are multiple areas where Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson can make improvements for next season. They can put a bigger emphasis on qualifying after the No. 9 car only reached the final round seven times in his 19 starts.
They can also continue to work on race strategy for road courses and other tracks where they do not have to worry about pitting in a group. Nailing those little details can make the difference between contending for a championship and ending the regular season below the cutline.
While Elliott missed out on the final playoff spot on the driver side, he still checked off a goal that was very important to Hendrick Motorsports. He put the No. 9 Chevrolet in the owner championship over the No. 23 of 23XI Racing.
Elliott now has an opportunity to pursue wins and points that will move the No. 9 through the opening rounds of the playoffs. NASCAR pays the season-end purses based on the owner standings, so Elliott can help deliver a bigger payday with a strong postseason run.
“Obviously we came up a little short, but nonetheless — I hate the way the season has gone, but proud to get the car into the owner’s championship,” Elliott said. “It’s a big deal to get in on the owner’s side, so hopefully we’ll try and go make some noise on that front, and just keep progressing and pushing to be better for next year. We’ll be better through all of this down the road.”
Elliott is not the only prominent driver to miss the playoffs. Teammate Alex Bowman also missed the cut after an injury sidelined him for three races. Reigning Rookie of the Year Austin Cindric missed the playoffs after winning his way in last season.
Austin Dillon and Daniel Suarez, who both won their way into the playoffs last season, missed the cut after falling into must-win situations during the regular season. They joined AJ Allmendinger, who entered the season as one of the favorites to make the playoffs due to the number of road courses on the schedule.