As NASCAR’s offseason has rolled on, its most popular driver has been notably absent from many mainstream conversations. He’s not washed up, he’s a threat to win races in 2024, but he’s not the one driving conversations among fans. What is it that has caused Elliott’s brief fall from mainstream NASCAR relevance, and will he return to that prominence in 2024?
- Chase Elliott is NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver, but his fanbase is notorious amongst some fans for being irritating on social media. While Elliott is, as a result, normally near the top of all NASCAR fans’ minds, very little has transpired surrounding Elliott this offseason.
- Elliott is coming off of his worst season yet in the Cup Series in terms of points finish, missing the Playoffs for the first time in his career. Despite these obstacles, he was solid in the races he did run.
- With Elliott being the most popular driver, Chase Elliott is often the focus and subject of conversation. However, some fans have gotten annoyed by how much publicity and promotion he gets. And some of his actions last year turned more fans against him.
How We Got Here
Elliott’s story begins with talking about his 2023 Cup Series season. It was a difficult one featuring him breaking his leg while skiing the week after the second race of the season. Elliott being off the track for those weeks caused many to attribute NASCAR’s early season TV ratings slump to his absence.
The “Chase Elliott Effect,” as it was called, saw NASCAR Cup Series races take a major drop in TV viewership compared to 2022. It was so bad that NASCAR heavily promoted Elliott’s return when he came back at Martinsville. They even went so far as to make an entire commercial about it that fans can watch here.
Eventually, though, he was back on the track, and NASCAR’s TV ratings stabilized somewhat after he returned. Martinsville, his first race back, saw a slight uptick in TV viewers. However, it did not solve NASCAR’s problem, as 24 of 38 races still saw a decrease in TV viewership.
Then came possibly the biggest blow to his reputation. Elliott was suspended for one race after intentionally wrecking Denny Hamlin during the Coca-Cola 600.
Before this, he was NASCAR’s Golden Boy who was seen as the undisputed face of the sport amongst the fanbase. This incident was a major dent in that reputation. This dent was by no means a death sentence to his career, but, Elliott’s promotional reputation was tainted.
On the track, he was performing fine overall, but, he was not winning races. He never led more than 18 laps in a race during the Regular Season, and that overall performance caused him to miss the Playoffs.
This all came to a head at Watkins Glen when he ran out of fuel after a critical miscalculation by crew chief Alan Gustafson. While this was not the sole reason he missed the Playoffs, it was the perfect representation of his frustrating season.
Now out of the Drivers Playoffs, Elliott was not relevant in the NASCAR world throughout the Playoffs. He had some good races including leading 47 laps at Kansas and 83 laps at Martinsville, but since he was not in the Playoffs, he wasn’t as heavily promoted as he had been early in the season.
However, yet another incident happened during the Playoffs at Kansas. Elliott door slammed teammate and Playoff contender Kyle Larson on pit road. Afterward, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio’s Danielle Trotta made scathing comments about Elliott, calling out his poor decision-making throughout the season. This set off another firestorm of bad publicity surrounding Elliott’s reputation and etiquette as a teammate.
In the offseason, Elliott has remained relatively quiet. This was not necessarily unexpected. He is not quite as active on social media as other drivers, and he does not make many headlines with interview comments.
He did surface to update his fans on the shoulder surgery he got in November. But this led to even more questions about how healthy he really was in 2023 given that he was dealing with a broken leg and a shoulder injury.
He won the Most Popular Driver Award for the 6th season in a row, so he was at the NASCAR Awards. Aside from this, he’s been radio silent.
Then came the Netflix docuseries, where Elliott (again, the sport’s most popular driver) was never even mentioned. It was as if he was invisible throughout the 2023 Playoffs. This was a bit of a surprise to some given how popular Elliott is amongst the fanbase.
As a result of all of this, the mainstream conversation surrounding NASCAR is not about Elliott. It’s about the stars of the Netflix docuseries like Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell, and Ross Chastain. Hamlin in particular has garnered much conversation for the great access he gave the Netflix crews.
With all of this in mind, will Elliott find a way back into NASCAR’s mainstream once again?
Will Elliott Make Himself Relevant Again?
The answer to that question is most likely a yes. At the end of the day, he is still the sport’s most popular driver, so he will become a part of the conversation by default. It’s not like he lost that fanbase overnight, despite him likely not gaining many new fans.
It’s also important to note that in 2023, Elliott performed better than people think he did. He finished 2023 with 15 top-10 finishes, which was more than Ross Chastain (14), Bubba Wallace (10), and Kevin Harvick (14). It was also just one fewer than Tyler Reddick (16) and Brad Keselowski (16).
Elliott’s average finish in 2023 was 13.1. If he kept that up and competed in all 36 races, that would have ranked 6th in the Cup Series. His average finish was better than the top-2 in the final standings, Ryan Blaney (14.1) and Kyle Larson (14.6). Elliott did all of this while missing 7 races.
Keep in mind that Elliott also had three consecutive Championship 4 appearances between 2020 and 2022.
Will he be the number one driver at Hendrick Motorsports? That is to be determined, and he has tough competition for that spot. William Byron had a career year in 2023, and Kyle Larson had made two of the last three Championship 4’s.
Chase Elliott is ready to put 2023 behind him. He has the talent and equipment to make 2024 a great season, but he has stiff competition within his team to contend with.