CONCORD, N.C. — As the NASCAR Cup Series approaches the midpoint of its regular season, Chase Elliott is 63 points behind the cutoff line for the end-of-year playoffs.
This doesn’t come as a shock, as the Hendrick Motorsports driver missed six races earlier this season after breaking his left leg in a snowboarding accident. His six-week absence resulted in a drop from 14th to 32nd in the driver standings, leaving Elliott with two avenues to earn a spot in the playoffs — he is still eligible due to a playoff waiver he was granted by NASCAR.
The first and most realistic path requires a trip to victory lane. Should Elliott win a race at any point before the playoffs begin Sept. 3 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, he will secure a playoff berth for his No. 9 team.
The second and more unlikely option is for the 2020 Cup Series champion to point his way into a position.
“It sounds like 63 points is attainable in 13 weeks, but I think a lot can happen,” Elliott said. “My goals don’t really change either way. Your best chance of having a shot at the championship is to go and put yourself in position to win races, and same for gaining the most amount of points you can have.”
To him, the playoff possibilities are one and the same.
It’s why Elliott hasn’t dwelled much on his position in the standings.
“I hear people talking about it, that we were somewhere closer and within reach of pointing our way in,” Elliott said. “I’m really just trying to run better and get some stage points. To me, that’s probably been the biggest thing we haven’t done.”
His most successful run at accumulating stage points was during his second race back at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Elliott won the first stage, finished second in stage two and ended the race in 12th, netting him 44 stage points.
However, the No. 9 driver has yet to repeat his performance, with his next best points day coming at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway where he scored 34 stage points and finished 13th.
As it’s only been a month since Elliott returned to the cockpit, one rising concern was that his injury was affecting his on-track results.
But despite wrestling with the recovery process while doing normal things during the week, the Hendrick Motorsports driver is adamant there is little abnormal pain he deals with over the weekends.
“I sat around for six weeks or better there before Martinsville and I was hurting for sure after that,” Elliott said, referring to his first race back. “But even when you’re in good shape and you have good weeks of preparation, you can still go through a race weekend and certain events, temperatures or whatever can fatigue you more than others.
Once inside the car, the Hendrick Motorsports driver explained his leg feels secure in position and could be “in a much more compromised situation,” leaving him with little worry about its potential impact on race performance.
“In the car, physically driving, I don’t feel any bit different than I did last season or the beginning of this year,” Elliott said. “I think the things that I haven’t done well, I wasn’t doing well before I got hurt, too.”