CONCORD, N.C. – The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season tested Chase Elliott and the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts team in a way no other campaign had. Elliott missed time due to injury but the team showed its mettle and resilience over the year. First, in pulling together while the 2020 champion was out and then, in advancing through the owner playoffs to reach the Round of 8.
Elliott notched his first top-five finish of the season in the second race of the year at Auto Club Speedway. The 27-year-old driver scored a runner-up result at the 2-mile track after starting from the 33rd position. Before the third race of the season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the Dawsonville, Georgia, native suffered a fractured tibia in his right leg in a snowboarding accident. With Elliott sidelined JR Motorsports driver Josh Berry filled in for five races and IMSA champion and Garage 56 reserve driver/coach Jordan Taylor was behind the wheel at Circuit of The Americas. Berry's runner-up finish at Richmond Raceway in April stood as the best finish for the team while Elliott was out and the best finish of Berry's Cup career.
Elliott returned to the car after missing six races. In his first race back at Martinsville Speedway, he notched a top-10 finish. The following week at Talladega Superspeedway he scored a stage win. That Talladega race also marked the 650th Cup Series start for crew chief Alan Gustafson. The team scored five consecutive top-12 finishes from Martinsville to a third-place run at Darlington Raceway in a push toward the playoffs. After Corey LaJoie filled in at WWT Raceway, Elliott rattled off three straight top-five finishes - fifth at Sonoma Raceway, fourth at Nashville Superspeedway and third at the Chicago Street Course.
SEASON RECAPS: Alex Bowman | William Byron | Kyle Larson
As the summer drew on, Elliott was faced with a must-win scenario to keep his streak of seven consecutive seasons in the playoffs intact. His second-place finish at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course and fourth-place result at Daytona International Speedway to close out the regular season were valiant efforts to try to get to the postseason.
While his points deficit proved to be too much to overcome to reach the driver playoffs, that was not the case when it came to the owner playoffs. Thanks to the team's efforts while he was out with fill-in drivers Berry, Taylor and LaJoie as well as Elliott's results when he was back, the No. 9 team was the 16th and final team to make the owner playoffs. The final owner championship standings help determine the payout for teams, so this is extremely important to the teams.
Although he did not have a yellow banner on his windshield, Elliott put together an impressive 10-race stretch. With a lack of playoff points to his name compared to the competition, Elliott and the team relied on consistency to move on. He opened the owner playoffs with five top-10 results in the first six races to advance to the Round of 8 in the owner title fight. In addition, Elliott surpassed 5,000 laps led in the Cup Series when he led for 15 laps at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL in October. Elliott finished the season 17th in the driver standings and the No. 9 team was 10th in the owner standings.
Off the track, Elliott's foundation (the Chase Elliott Foundation) continues its work as a non-profit organization dedicated to providing support and financial assistance to well-qualified charitable organizations with an emphasis on helping others live healthier, happier lives. In a collaboration with Hendrick Motorsports and NAPA Auto Parts, the Chase Elliott Foundation’s seventh edition of its "DESI9N TO DRIVE" art initiative with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway on July 8-9, 2023. Parts of the racing uniform were auctioned off through The NASCAR Foundation with all proceeds going to the Chase Elliott Foundation to benefit the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s. Additionally, a portion of the sales from each die-cast sold of this race car is donated to Children's.
2023 SEASON STATS FOR ELLIOTT
Top fives: 7
Top 10s: 15
Stage wins: 2
Laps led: 195
Average finish: 13.1
Standings position: 17th
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Team owner Rick Hendrick on Chase Elliott’s 2023 season:
"I like the way that team has come back and rebounded. Nobody waits for you when you are out and the crew chief and the driver aren’t able to work together. Other teams move on and so they had to play catch up. Now I feel like they are there. I’m excited about the team having great momentum going into '24."
Chase Elliott on his season and the team's improvement in the owner playoffs:
"I definitely feel like we have improved throughout the year. Looking back on it, I don’t think being out and my injury is the reason for that. As I learn more about my season and myself and how things have unfolded, I feel like my struggles and the things I’ve fought through this year I was starting to fight through last year, too. I kind of picked up where I left off last season and I was going to have those things to work through regardless. That was another bump in the road that I would have rather not gone through."
Despite the adversity 2023 brought, Elliott and his team continued to battle. Reaching the Round of 8 in the owner playoffs should serve as a solid appetizer to a bounce-back year for the driver of the No. 9. With the retirement of Kevin Harvick, Elliott and Gustafson are the longest-tenured driver-crew chief pairing in the garage. That continuity will pay dividends as the team regroups. Together since 2016, they have 18 wins and won the 2020 Cup Series championship.
Winning is in the No. 9 team's DNA and seeing Elliott get back to victory lane is the expectation for this group. Multiple victories -- the team has had five seasons with at least two wins in the past six years -- as well as a deep playoff run are the goals. Before 2023, Elliott and Gustafson reached the Championship 4 in the previous three seasons.