As the 2020 Cup Series champion explained during a media session at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the No. 9 team has not performed at its normal level since his return from a fractured tibia. The biggest reason for this is his ongoing battle with qualifying. He has only started inside the top 10 once in the past five races.
“Qualifying has been really poor for me for probably six months or more,” Elliott said. “Unfortunately, that trend has continued. I think that’s the big one, for sure. That impacts your pit pick — your pit pick you have to live with throughout the entire race. But yeah, qualifying a little better and stage points.”
Elliott has only made seven starts in the 2023 season due to a six-week absence after a snowboarding accident in Colorado, but his struggles in qualifying are evident. His average finish is 20.9, which marks the first time in his full-time career that it has been worse than 11.3.
The Qualifying Struggles Impact Elliott’s Battle for Points
Elliott’s season began with a crash that dropped him to 34th in the standings. He then moved up to 14th after a runner-up at Auto Club Speedway. However, he plummeted once again after missing six races.
Elliott is now 28th in the standings after adding three more top-10 finishes and one top-five to his total. He is 63 points behind the cutline, and he needs to gain as many bonus points as possible. This means finishing each stage inside of the top 10.
Elliott achieved this goal at Talladega Superspeedway. He won the first stage and then finished second in the second. Though he ultimately finished 12th overall in the running order.
Bonus points have been harder to come by in the weeks since. He walked away with two at Dover Motor Speedway but missed out at both Kansas Speedway and Darlington Raceway after struggles in qualifying.
“And certainly want to run better in the races, too,” Elliott added. “I feel like some of the components have been there. Our pit stops have been really good this year. I feel like [crew chief Alan Gustafson] and everybody has called good races.
“I think it’s really just on me to do a better job and make sure I’m giving those guys the information that they need to make our car better, and then ultimately to go put down a faster lap in qualifying.”
A Crown Jewel Presents an Opportunity
Elliott has been unable to gain bonus points in recent weeks, but he has a fresh opportunity at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Coca-Cola 600 features four stages and more available points for the drivers in the 37-car field.
Elliott will actually kick off the Crown Jewel event with his best starting position of the season. He will line up on the third row next to Kyle Busch as he makes his 12th career Cup Series start at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The rain washed out qualifying, so NASCAR set the starting order using its formula that takes into account owner points, finishing position in the previous race, and the fastest lap in the previous points-paying race. Elliott finished third overall in the previous race, which had a significant effect on his starting position.
William Byron won at Darlington Raceway, so he starts from the pole. Kevin Harvick will be second overall after he finished second during the Throwback Weekend race.