Chase Elliott Could Already Be NASCAR Playoffs Favorite Despite Being the Only Hendrick Motorsports Driver Without a Win

Chase Elliott is the only driver in the NASCAR powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports stable yet to enjoy a Victory Lane celebration this season. Still, the four-time Most Popular Driver award winner is already in position to potentially have the inside track on the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series championship.

In a season of increased parity throughout the series in which no driver has multiple wins, Hendrick has still managed to capture half of the first six points-paying checkered flags of the 2022 season. No other organization has more than one victory, and fellow four-car juggernaut Joe Gibbs Racing has yet to record a win.

Hendrick Motorsports has dominated the start of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season

Defending 2021 champion Kyle Larson gave HMS its first victory of the year when he won the second points race of the season in late February at Auto Club Speedway. Alex Bowman followed with a victory the following week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and William Byron won two weeks later at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Each of those drivers has already likely secured his spot in the 16-driver playoff field, provided 16 or fewer drivers have at least one win at the end of race No. 26 in late August at Daytona International Speedway. If more than 16 drivers have a win, the drivers with the fewest total points would be left out, although there has yet to be more than 16 regular-season winners in a single year since NASCAR implemented its current playoff format in 2014.

However, the driver leading the points standings after the regular-season finale at Daytona gets an automatic berth into the playoffs regardless of whether he has a win. That could be Elliott’s path to the playoffs if he fails to win any of the next 20 races left in the regular season and the current trend of different winners every week continues.

Chase Elliott currently holds the top spot in the points standings

Elliott leads the Cup Series points standings after the first six races of the season with a 13-point advantage over Ryan Blaney. Elliott’s 11.0 average finishing position leads all drivers, and he joins most-recent winner Ross Chastain as the only two drivers with four top-10 finishes on the year.

Still, Elliott is most likely going to win at some point before the playoffs. He has at least two wins in each of his last four seasons, and his 13 victories since 2018 are the fifth-most in the series and most among HMS drivers in that span.

He excels especially at road courses, as seven of his 13 wins are on tracks that require both left and right turns.

The 2022 schedule plays in his favor in that regard, with six road courses on the slate after a record seven road-course events a year ago. Elliott grabbed wins in 2021 at COTA in Austin and Road America in Wisconsin.

Bonus for leading points could give Elliott advantage

Chase Elliott ahead of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, waits on the grid prior to the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway | Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Whether Elliott gets a regular-season win, the NASCAR playoffs‘ structure could give him another boost with a 15-point bonus to the driver who leads the points standings at the conclusion of the regular season.

This has been a critical part of the playoff puzzle since NASCAR started to award bonus points in 2018. Kyle Busch won the regular-season title in 2019 en route to his second Cup Series championship, and Larson did the same on the path to his first career title in 2021.

NASCAR also awards 10 extra playoff points to the second-place finisher, nine points to third, and so on, down to one point for 10th. However, the extra five-point margin to finish the regular season atop the standings has proven a worthwhile advantage throughout the intense battles the NASCAR playoffs typically produce.

Elliott would not have had a chance to win his 2020 championship had he not won the penultimate race of that season at Martinsville Speedway to leapfrog Kevin Harvick into the Championship 4 with the automatic berth a win in the final three races provided. Elliott began those playoffs with just 20 playoff points he gained from two race wins and various stage victories. That was a far cry from the 57 playoff points Harvick enjoyed with seven wins and the points-lead bonus at the end of the 2020 regular season.

This time around, the typically understated Elliott has had a quiet start to his season compared to his HMS teammates, but he might be set up to have the loudest finish.

All stats courtesy of Racing Reference

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