Elliott, who began the playoffs as the regular season champion and No. 1 seed, kicked off the 2022 playoffs by wrecking out of the opener at Darlington (SC) Raceway, which left him with a 36th place finish.
An 11th at Kansas a week later still had him in a precarious position in the Round 1 cutoff race Saturday night at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
Elliott and his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team performed well, never leading a lap was running down eventual winner Chris Buescher at the finish and ended up second.
“I just needed to be able to do a better job getting in some different lanes. And then being second there, the top (groove) had gotten so dominant there at the end,” Elliott said. “The bottom was pretty good there early in the night and you could run down there for a long time, and then as the night went on the top got better and better and better, and that momentum was hard to beat.
“Unfortunately for me, we never got to any lapped traffic to make (Buescher) move, but we were starting to there in those last three or four laps. I felt like we were gaining, but I wasn’t close enough to do anything with him.”
With his finish, Elliott easily advanced to the Round of 12 and thanks to a points reset – and the fact no playoff drivers won races in the first round – Elliott starts the second round back on top.
His 40 playoff points again provides him a 15-point buffer over second-place Joey Logano as Round 2 gets underway this Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
After Texas is a trip to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and the round will conclude Oct. 9 on the Charlotte Roval, where he owns two career wins.
No one is safe
Elliott, 26, said he was not surprised at his difficulty in the first round as he said going into the playoffs the parity in the series this season with the Next Gen because meant no lead was secure.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to have the points and I’m glad that we had a good regular season to be able to make that happen, but nobody is safe in these rounds,” he said. “And we want to do better, too.
“We had a shot to win (at Bristol), but we want to have a shot to win every week. I think we’re very capable of that. We’ve just got to put it all together and execute solid races.”