Chase Elliott was the first – but not the only – NASCAR Cup Series playoff driver to encounter trouble last Sunday at Darlington Raceway. But as the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, Elliott lost much of his advantage on the field when he finished last and earned just one point in the Southern 500.
Elliott spun in Turn 1 on lap 113 after sliding up the track and bouncing off the wall. The No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet might have been OK had it not been for collecting Chase Briscoe when Elliott slid back across the track. Briscoe ran into the right rear of Elliott’s car, and that set of circumstances ended Elliott’s night as the team could not get the car repaired within the allotted 10-minute DVP clock.
“In that particular instance of the race, I was just cruising to the stage,” Elliott explained, saying he wasn’t pushing too hard. “We were a couple of spots behind getting stage points, so with that few laps left, I didn’t think it was reasonable to think you were going to go past three more guys and get in the points.”
Elliott fell from the point lead to ninth on the playoff grid. What had been a 33-point advantage on the cutline to start the playoffs is 14 points going into Kansas Speedway.
After the crash, Elliott drove his car to pit road, and when it couldn’t be repaired, to the garage. He immediately climbed from the car and left the garage, changing before going to the care center and leaving the racetrack.
Despite his misfortune, Elliott didn’t try to figure out where he was going to shake out in the point standings. He also didn’t watch the rest of the race or care that so many other playoff drivers had bad nights, which kept his own setback from being that much worse.
“Honestly, (I) just look at it later, because there is absolutely nothing I can do about it,” Elliott said. “When you have a bad day and you fall out of the race, yeah, my hands are tied, and at that point, there’s nothing I can do other than just see where it shakes, and then on Monday just recognize where we are and the situation we’re in and go from there. That’s really about it. You can sit there and study it and watch and this and that, but it’s not going to do you any good. You can’t do anything about it.”
The regular season champion, Elliott is working with the most playoff points he’s ever had in the postseason. But he cautioned last week leading into the opening race that no driver is safe. Elliott reiterated that on Tuesday after his rough night at Darlington, which has become a scary opening race for championship contenders. Sunday night, eight drivers finished 16th or worse, and there were nine that did so in the same race a year ago.
“I told you all week last week that no one is safe. And I was including ourselves,” Elliott said. “I don’t think anybody is safe in any of the rounds. I thought that before Sunday, and I will continue to think that here on Tuesday.”