Chase Elliott, Hendrick drivers take stock of season after championship-less 2023
Chase Elliott looks at his performance during the playoffs — in which he didn’t qualify for the championship as a driver — and doesn’t see it playing out much differently than if he had run the seven races he missed during the year.
Elliott sees an end of the season where he had five top-10s in the first six playoff races and believes that probably would have been close to the results he would have had if he had not broken his leg early in the year or served a one-race suspension for his egregious wreck of Denny Hamlin in May.
“If I had run those seven races, we likely would have made the Round of 8 [on the drivers side] like we did on the owners side,” Elliott said the day before the season finale at Phoenix. “I think that is a fair assessment. … But would we just miraculously be winning five races if I had run the seven or however many I missed?
“No. I don’t think that’s real. I don’t think that’s a realistic take.”
Elliott and the rest of the Hendrick Motorsports team could look at their season through both optimistic and pessimistic lenses.
- Kyle Larson finished second in the standings, coming one spot short of the championship. But he led 1,127 laps and had 15 top-5s yet won “only” four races, five when you include the all-star race.
- William Byron finished third in the standings but appeared to have the strongest car initially in the championship race at Phoenix, where he led the first 92 laps. He had a break-out year with six wins.
- Elliott finished 17th in the standings — the highest he could after missing the playoffs — but went winless with seven top-5 finishes and 15 top-10 finishes (he had 12 top-5s and 20 top-10s in a full 36-race 2022 season). The No. 9 team overall finished 10th in the standings. Another frustrating item? Elliott didn’t have a finish of better than 15th in the last four races.
- Alex Bowman led the Cup standings for three weeks early in the year and was ninth in the standings when he broke his back in a sprint-car accident, an injury that forced him to miss three races. He ended up missing the playoffs and finished 20th in points. The team also finished 20th in the owner points.
Winning a combined 10 races plus the all-star race (29% of all events) has to be considered a solid season for HMS. They put two drivers in the Championship 4. And yet they came away empty.
“As you step back and you look at it, yes, you’re disappointed,” said HMS Vice President of Competition Chad Knaus during an appearance Tuesday on “NASCAR Race Hub.” “You’re really sad that we weren’t able to pull the championship home for the whole organization for what we’ve been through this year.
“But [we were] able to go there and finish two-three in points, 11 wins, we were able to eclipse 500 wins for our engine department, 300 for Hendrick Motorsports.”
Knaus said he was talking to Larson crew chief Cliff Daniels after the championship race about next year. They will take a break, but the ideas are churning.
“You start to look at the things that were tough — the injuries with the drivers, we had some points penalties early on in the season that we had to overcome,” Knaus said. “[It was] a phenomenal year and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Larson and Byron left Phoenix knowing they had a great year but also with the reality that they could see a potential championship slip through their hands.
“It was good,” Larson said following the championship race. “There was a lot left on the table I think, for sure. But I know the areas I need to clean up to be better.
“And if our race cars are as fast as they were this year, I think we can win a lot more next year. I know we just saw the checkered flag, but I’m really excited to get going for next year.”
The only sour part of Byron’s season came in the last two races at Martinsville and Phoenix, where he didn’t feel they were as strong as they needed to be.
“It was a really good season,” Byron said. “We put together a lot of good runs, a lot of good race cars, and we had a lot of shots to win.
“We’ve got to continue to build on that, work on the short tracks a little bit because I felt like the short tracks the last two weeks were tough for us. But we’ll work on that.”
The Larson and Byron seasons were a stark difference from the Elliott and Bowman seasons.
“For the most part, [it’s] certainly not what I expect of myself and what we expect of our team,” Elliott said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement. And we intend to do a lot of that going into next year.”
Bowman seemed ready for 2023 to end and to get started for 2024.
“This season has been full of challenges … but I’m proud of the effort this Ally 48 team has put in every weekend,” Bowman tweeted before the finale.
While there is expected to be some changes to personnel on the teams — as there often is at the end of every season — it would be mildly surprising if there are any major changes when it comes to the Hendrick crew chief-driver pairings.
“I want to be better,” Elliott said. “I have a really, really strong team and guys are working hard every week to try to give me the things that I want and need. … The hard work and resilience of not quitting and not giving up will eventually get us to where we need to go.”
Elliott wasn’t surprised he didn’t win this year.
“This stuff is tough,” Elliott said. “And if you’re not on your game, you’re not going to win. And we hadn’t been on our game.”
Thinking Out Loud
NASCAR fined Corey Heim $12,500 and docked him 25 points for intentionally wrecking Carson Hocevar at Phoenix. The penalty is consistent with penalties issued to Denny Hamlin and Sheldon Creed earlier this year (fines are smaller in trucks because the purses are smaller).
Heim denied the move was on purpose but with him saying on the in-car radio after he got wrecked by Hocevar that “he ain’t getting out of here tonight,” NASCAR felt that it was premeditated retaliation.
Some would say that should have resulted in a suspension as other drivers have been suspended for such actions. But it wasn’t an incredibly dangerous move and while Hocevar was a championship finalist, he wasn’t going to win the title.
Grant Enfinger, though, likely was going to win a title without that caution. And the fact that it impacted the championship could have understandably elevated it to suspension-worthy.
From the view of consistency, this was the right call as all three had one thing in common — they either admitted retaliation or there was something said on the in-car radio that indicated it was retaliation.
If Heim had gone on to win the title, would NASCAR have pulled the championship from him? My guess is the fine would have been bigger but NASCAR would have let the championship stand as it wouldn’t have wanted to get into appeals and a championship decided days after the event.
In The News
–Brennan Poole will join Alpha Prime Racing next year for a full season in the Xfinity Series. The organization will have Poole and Ryan Ellis as full-time drivers with the lineup of driver(s) for its third car still to be determined. Jeffrey Earnhardt won’t return to the organization.
Stat of the Day
Stewart-Haas Racing went winless in the Cup Series for the first time since Tony Stewart became a co-owner of the former Haas CNC Racing in 2009.
They Said It
“I’m not hiring any of those guys that were pulling those antics. I don’t want those guys driving our race cars because if they’re going to crash somebody else, people get tired of that. And when they get tired of it, they start tearing up your race cars.” —Tony Stewart on the truck series finale that featured several wrecks caused by either intentional or reckless racing
Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.
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