Upon Chase Elliott‘s return from injury at Martinsville Speedway in April, many expected he would win his way into a NASCAR Cup Series playoff spot. As the early days of summer rolled around, a few even thought Elliott might even earn enough points to make the cut. Now, as the dust settles from the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway, Elliott will not contend for the 2023 driver’s championship.
Throughout the event, Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet became a mainstay around the top 10, even leading laps at points. The crowd thundered in stage two when Elliott pulled ahead of AJ Allmendinger into the forming third lane and rocketed to the front of the pack.
Elliott slid back a few positions when the Big One unfolded, but the No. 9 had an invisible bubble around it while other cars crashed all directions around him.
Before the final caution, Elliott led the inside line with his two-lap down teammate Kyle Larson pushing. When the drivers chose lanes for the overtime restart, Elliott slotted in second on the inside behind Kevin Harvick, with teammates Alex Bowman and William Byron in tow. However, the low line proved no match for the RFK Racing teammate tandem that drove out and away to the eventual victory.
“I needed to stay locked on to the 4 car better,” Elliott told Frontstretch post-race. “I couldn’t stay locked to him like the 6 was to the 17. Ultimately that was the difference. I couldn’t stay there and make sure Kevin [Harvick] had enough surge to fight on the bottom lane.”
Elliott also ruled out the possibility of Harvick laying back to give teammate Aric Almirola a better chance.
For Elliott, he still sees opportunity in the playoffs to improve for next season.
“It certainly isn’t ideal for me, but I look at these next 10 weeks as an opportunity to get better and try to be prepared well for next year,” Elliott said. “I hate it, I hate the way that this worked out. I can’t change it now. We’ve been trying to fight through it and we came up short. That’s life sometimes.”
Though Elliott will not have a shot at winning his second Cup title, there is still some silver lining for No. 9 fans.
“Look it sucks, no question. Glad the car got in, it’s a big deal,” Elliott shared. “Testament to Alan [Gustafson] and our team for continuing to fight while I was gone. There’s a lot of opportunity on that side of things, and it’s a really big deal. Would like to go and make some noise on that front.”
Elliott will try to advance his team in the owners championship, which begins next week at Darlington Raceway. The Cook Out Southern 500 will air Sunday, Sept. 3 at 6 p.m. ET on USA Network.
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