Chase Elliott didn’t necessarily want the NASCAR Cup Series season to end, even if conventional wisdom might say his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team could use the winter to reset.
“I think the best time to learn is at the racetrack every week, because there is no environment that replicates quite like race weekends do, and quite like the environment is when you show up every week,” Elliott said. “So, I actually think the best time to learn is now, and I think we’ve been trying to do that. Tests can be helpful; you can learn things at tests. I’m not even sure if we have any tests slated for the winter or not. But there is no better environment than racing.”
Elliott was confident his team was on the right path as the year came to a close, even if the results didn’t show it, and was eager to keep building. In the season finale at Phoenix, Elliott finished 16th after qualifying 20th. It was his fourth consecutive finish of 15th or worse.
On the driver’s side, Elliott went winless and failed to make the postseason. Elliott racked up 15 top-10 finishes, which are the fewest he’s had in a single season (which also happened in 2019). But Elliott’s car qualified for the owners’ championship and finished 10th in the standings.
“It’s been what you’ve seen, you know?” Elliott said of his season. “There have been times being decent, but for the most part, it’s not certainly not been what I expect of myself and what we expect of our team. So, a lot of room for improvement, and we intend to do a lot of that going into next year.”
Elliott didn’t single out any specific areas where improvement is needed. “It all needs to be better,” he said.
Elliott isn’t blaming his slump on any one issue. “This stuff’s tough, and if you’re not on your game, you’re not going to win.” Gavin Baker/Motorsport Images
Elliott missed seven races in the half of the season. A snowboarding accident before the third race in Las Vegas sidelined the Georgian driver for six races after he underwent surgery for a fractured tibia in his left leg. The seventh race was a suspension in early June after right-rear hooking Denny Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600.
Despite missing those races, Elliott wasn’t convinced it impacted his season. The only difference is perhaps making the third round of the postseason on the driver’s side — had he been in the playoffs.
“But would we just miraculously be winning five races if I ran the seven that I missed? No, I don’t think that’s real,” Elliott said. “I don’t think that’s a realistic take.”
And the struggles weren’t completely unexpected. Elliott felt they were on the same racetracks where the team stumbled in late 2022, and it was no different when they returned. It had nothing to do, Elliott felt, with him missing races.
“You’re always wanting to be better,” Elliott said. “I think we’ve learned a lot about ourselves and the things that I need to do better. I’ve learned a lot about myself and just areas I want to improve.”
“It’s not what I want it to be, so at the end of the day, I’m not happy with it,” Elliott continued. “Whatever part of the scale that’s (graded) on, it doesn’t really matter. I want to be better and I think, as I’ve expressed, I feel like I have a really, really strong team, and the guys are working hard every week to try to give me the things that I want and need, and that’s really all you can ask for. I just want to continue on that path and continue to work hard like we have been, and I think the hard work and resilience of not quitting and not giving up will eventually get us to where we need to go.”
Elliott won 18 races between 2018 and 2022. Not since his first two seasons in the Cup Series had he gone without winning a race. But, he denied that the dry spell came as a surprise to him
“No,” he said. “This stuff’s tough, and if you’re not on your game, you’re not going to win. We haven’t been on our game.”