While other drivers may have had worse statistical seasons, it’s hard to say anyone had a more frustrating season than NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver, Chase Elliott. From getting injured to poor performance to bad decision-making, a lot went wrong for Elliott in 2023, and both his on-track and off-track demeanor seemed out of sorts. What happened, and how bad was Elliott’s 2023 season?
The Broken Leg
Chase Elliott’s season got off to a down then up start after crashing out of the Daytona 500 to open the season, then rebounding to finish second at Auto Club Speedway in the second race. However, things went south when Chase Elliott broke his leg while snowboarding during the week between Auto Club and Las Vegas.
The incident sparked a debate about activities drivers do outside of racing. People were asking whether or not it was worth it to do activities outside of racing that put drivers at risk of injury. It’s a question that is still debated, and it truly varies from team to team and car owner to car owner. Elliott’s teammate, Alex Bowman, after he broke his back racing a sprint car, admitted that he was going to scale back his sprint car racing to keep himself from danger.
Regardless of who fell on which side of the argument, the bottom line was that Elliott was out for six weeks. He finally made his return at Martinsville Speedway in April.
The Return and Suspension
When Elliott came back, he seemed to be back in his old form relatively quickly. He recorded three top-10s in his first five races back, and he climbed from 32nd to 27th in the points standings. Now, it seemed that his best opportunity to get back in the Playoffs was to win, but, pointing his way into the Playoffs was not out of the question.
That changed at Charlotte, when Elliott made, frankly, a very bad decision. After getting squeezed into the wall off of turn four in the Coca-Cola 600, Elliott retaliated by turning Hamlin into the wall. NASCAR deemed it intentional, and they suspended Elliott from the ensuing race at Gateway.
This was extremely out of character for Elliott, who is normally pretty mild-mannered. The injury was just a freak accident, but this was a bad decision by Elliott. It put him even further behind in his fight to make the Playoffs.
Despite his suspension, Elliott was entering into a great stretch of races for him. In 2022, Elliott had five consecutive top-2 finishes between Nashville and Pocono including three wins. His return was going to be at Sonoma, which is a road course, and Elliott excels on road courses.
However, Elliott kept just missing out on victory lane. While teammates William Byron and Kyle Larson were winning races, and Alex Bowman had led the points early in the season, Elliott just did not have winning speed.
He recorded three straight top-5s at Sonoma, Nashville, and the Chicago Street Race, but he led only 14 laps in those three races combined. He only had 37 laps led all season up to the Chicago Street Race, and he only recorded one top-10 finish in the next five races. However, Indianapolis was Elliott’s best chance to win.
In a race that went caution-free for the final 77 of 82 laps, Elliott was amongst the three fastest cars of the day. However, try as he might, he could not make the move to get past Michael McDowell. Elliott finished second in the race, but the next week would seal his fate.
Late Season Collapse
In the race prior to Indianapolis, Elliott wrecked out at Michigan early. He finished last with no stage points, and he was truly in must-win territory. Watkins Glen was going to be his best chance to win and sneak into the Playoffs.
The weekend started off rocky with a 15th-place qualifying run, while teammates Kyle Larson and William Byron qualified in the top-5. Crew chief Alan Gustafson decided to put Elliott on an alternate strategy, and a crucial mistake was made as Gustafson left Elliott out on the track after miscalculating how much fuel was in the car.
It was a total, absolute failure by the race team, and Elliott failed to win at Daytona to make the Playoffs. Despite his teammates being Championship contenders, he failed to win a race, which was a disastrous result after making the Championship 4 the season prior.
Playoff Performance and Teammate Run-In
While out of the running in the Driver’s Championship, Elliott was still in the Owner’s Championship. The Playoffs were more of the same for Elliott as he was solid when racing, but he never had winning speed. He managed to make the Round of 8 in the Owner’s Playoffs, but, he did not do much of note with his results.
However, at Kansas, Elliott made another bizarre decision by door-slamming Kyle Larson at Kansas coming out of pit road. It was another questionable decision by Elliott, and he was called out by Danielle Trotta on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio that ensuing week.
Trotta accused Elliott of being “Mentally not right”, and accused Elliott of not liking Larson. Elliott had a couple of major lapses in judgment this season. It was beginning to affect how Elliott was perceived by the fans and media alike.
Elliott would end the season quietly with no wins and a 17th-place points finish. He worked his way to being the highest-ranked driver not in the Playoffs, but, it was not a great season.
In the races Chase Elliott ran, he was solid. He had 15 top-10 finishes which was 12th amongst the 32 full-time drivers this season. He also had 7 top-5 finishes, which was just one fewer than Cup Series Champion, Ryan Blaney.
However, he failed to win a race or even a pole. Teammates Kyle Larson and William Byron combined to win 10 races, and Elliott was always a step behind them.
On top of that, Elliott’s decision-making was called into question. The injury was not necessarily from bad decision-making on the race track, but door-slamming a teammate and intentionally wrecking Denny Hamlin at Charlotte were both bad decisions on track.
It was a disastrous season, but, all Elliott can do now is try to make up for it next season. Will he come back with a force in 2024?