Chase Elliott, NASCAR's most popular driver, enters 2024 optimistic about bounce-back year

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Chase Elliott’s confidence could have slumped. His team could have fractured. He’s seen it happen to other drivers.

The 28-year-old never worried about that, though, after enduring the worst year of his NASCAR Cup Series career in 2023. Those issues never popped up.

“I feel like our team is in a good place,” Elliott said earlier this week during Daytona 500 Media Day. “When you have a year like last year, it is really easy for a team to blow up from the inside. Like, really easy. You don’t know how easy. And when I look at just where our team is at mentally and just our drive and our will and our willingness to fight and not quit, I think it is at an all-time high, to be honest.”

Chase Elliott during Daytona Media Day on Feb. 14, 2024.
Chase Elliott during Daytona Media Day on Feb. 14, 2024.

Elliott broke his leg in a snowboarding accident last March and missed six races. He sat out another after NASCAR suspended him for intentionally wrecking Denny Hamlin at the Coca-Cola 600. And when he did run, the results he wanted didn’t follow. He has not won in 34 tries since taking the checkered flag at Talladega Superspeedway in October of 2022.

He also missed the playoffs for the first time. He placed 17th — his first time not making the final four since 2019.

Elliott strung together seven top-10 finishes in nine races as the regular season ended and postseason began, but it wasn't enough to dig out of the early hole.

NASCAR: Martin Truex Jr. shakes off playoff woes, goes for Daytona 500 victory in 20th start

“I was fine,” Elliott said. “My injuries weren’t why we struggled. I just think I have some bad habits this car doesn’t like, and I have to address it.”

Bad habits, as in?

“As in, things we talk about behind closed doors,” he said.

Fair enough.

Chase Elliott answers questions from reporters at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 14, 2024.
Chase Elliott answers questions from reporters at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 14, 2024.

Elliott still maintained his celebrity status last summer. Fans voted the second-generation star as the sport’s most popular driver for the sixth consecutive season.

Now, he enters his ninth Cup Series campaign, which have all come with Hendrick Motorsports. Hendrick celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. It kicks off Sunday with the Daytona 500, a race none of its drivers have claimed since Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2014.

Elliott flirted with a victory at NASCAR's most famous track in 2021 but finished second. He started on the pole in 2016 and 2017.

Other than that, well, the 2021 iteration doesn’t face much competition for his favorite Daytona 500 memory.

NASCAR: Jimmie Johnson can make history in the Daytona 500; and do so in a Toyota

“That was kind of cool, I guess,” Elliott said. “I would’ve liked to have won, but that was a decent finish. The rest of them were pretty horrible. We’ve crashed. So there hasn’t been a whole lot of good outside of that day.”

He’s pushed inside the top 10 just twice. Last year, Elliott wrecked and ended up 38th.

But last year is last year. This season remains a blank slate.

“There’s a sense of a new opportunity,” Elliott said. “I’m appreciative of that. There’s also a realistic understanding of, your problems don’t disappear because the calendar changed from 3 to 4.

“We know we need to be better, and I know I need to be better and intend on continuing to build on what we were working on there at the end of last year. Just keep our heads down and keep pushing.”

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Daytona 500 nears as Chase Elliott looks for NASCAR rebound season