Don’t tell Chase Elliott how long it is until the 2023 Daytona 500

AVONDALE, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 06: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on November 06, 2022 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Don’t tell Chase Elliott how long it will be until 2023 starts.

Elliott was looking for his second NASCAR Cup title Sunday at Phoenix Raceway, the site where he won his first in 2020. The Hendrick Motorsports driver was certainly the favorite before making the Championship 4, and after earning a fifth place starting spot, he seemed to be in a good position to do just that. Until a lap 201 restart.

As the field took the green, they fanned out. Elliott tried to move to the front on the low side but was tapped by Ross Chastain. His Chevy was sent into a spin and ended up into the inside safer barrier. He was able to drive away, but his hopes for a race win, and another championship were over.

After the race Elliott didn’t seem to want to talk about what had happened.

“Yeah, I’m not sure. I’m not sure,” he said. “Looking forward to the off-season, and really proud of our team for the fight that we put in today. I felt like we just kind of peaked right there before we crashed, and I felt like we got our car driving pretty good, we just had our best pit stop of the day, so that was all really solid. And heck, we were right there next to the 22.

“I thought we had a shot at it all the way up until we didn’t, and that’s unfortunately the way it goes sometimes.”

Elliott said prior to the incident he felt he hadn’t really showed what his car was capable of.

“I feel like we had gotten it driving about as good as it had been all weekend, honestly,” he said. “When we split the stage and some of those guys stayed out and ran long and we went a lap down and made our lap back up there under green, that run, I thought our car was driving pretty good.

“We had been adjusting to that point, and I thought we had gotten into a decent spot. It’s hard to tell. We were out there on fresher tires, and other guys were on old stuff.

“I was looking forward to seeing if that held true, but from where I sat, obviously it’s difficult because you don’t have a lot to gauge off of pace-wise. But I felt like our balance was getting pretty close. That was good.

“But until you kind of get back in the mix and reset there, it is tough to say. Would have loved to see what it looked like on the front couple of rows. I felt like we just had, like I said a second ago, our best pit stop of the day, guys were rolling there on pit road. And yeah, would have loved a shot there at the end, but that’s the way it works. “

Elliott finished the final race of the season 28th two laps down. Still, he isn’t already looking towards next season.

“Yeah, I don’t really care about 2023 right now,” he said. “We had five wins on the season, and we had — you tell me what the stats are. That’s how you would assess it, right? I know we won five races. That’s more than we did last year.

“But do not tell me what the countdown clock is because I don’t want to know.”

He did win five races and the regular season championship this season but isn’t looking to far forward.

“Yeah, I think we certainly have a target to look at as we go into next year,” he said. “Yeah, when the time comes, we’ll go to work on it.

“But that’s not today. I can assure you that. We’re going to enjoy a little time off, just like a lot of you guys are. It’s a long season. A lot of effort goes into this deal. And yeah, looking forward to that.

“But yeah, when we get back to Daytona next year, we’ll be ready to go, and we will put the focus on the things that we feel like we need to put them on and see where we stack up then.

“Yeah, again, 2023 is not on my radar right now.”

Greg Engle