By David Morgan, Associate Editor
After missing the past six weeks following a leg injury, Chase Elliott will make his return to the cockpit starting with Sunday’s NOCO 400 at Martinsville.
The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion was snowboarding in Colorado during the week prior to the March 5 race at Las Vegas when he suffered an injury to his left leg in which he broke his tibia and forced him to the sidelines.
Elliott explained that he “didn’t have a cool story” to go with the incident that caused his injury, noting that it was “just a perfect storm. My knee decided it was ballgame that day and I was down for the count.”
“I have a few screws in the top of my tibia there. It’s really more I guess knee-located than it is lower leg…Rehab has been I guess pretty standard for that type of injury. It’s not an uncommon injury by any means. It certainly could have been a lot worse. Fortunately, there wasn’t an ACL tear, meniscus or any of that, so that was all very positive and like I said, could have been a lot worse. Unless I injury it or hurt it again, no there shouldn’t be any lingering surgeries to have to remove any of that stuff or any of that.”
He added that as soon as the injury occurred, he reached out to team owner Rick Hendrick and crew chief Alan Gustafson from the emergency room to keep them apprised of what was going on and so they would have time to make plans for his absence.
“I certainly knew it wasn’t right and it was probably going to take a surgery,” Elliott said. “And to what extent it was, obviously I didn’t know at that point in time and was just hoping for the best. Whatever it was going to be, it was going to be. It was done at that point, right? I was more just thinking about tackling what it was and doing what the doctors told me to do to get back to 100% as soon as I could.”
After so many weeks away not being behind the wheel, Elliott noted that coming back at a physically demanding track like Martinsville would not have been his first choice, but the with the progress he has recently seen in his rehab, he feels up to the task on the half-mile track.
“It’s going to be tough. I was non-weight bearing for a number of weeks. When you’re not using a muscle on your body, you lose a large percentage of your muscle mass in just the first couple of weeks, so all of those things are very normal. So yeah, it’s going to be tough, for sure. But I feel like I’m to a point where I’m comfortable to go do it; I think I can go do it.
Should the discomfort become too much once the race gets underway, the team will have Josh Berry, who has driven in relief of Elliott for five of the past six weeks, on site just in case he can’t make it the full distance.
“We’ll have Josh (Berry) up there. He’s going to be hanging out and around in case I get to a point where I get uncomfortable or I have pain, all of those things that I didn’t experience yesterday. I felt really good driving. Just all of the normal things post-surgery I feel like I have going on and nothing beyond that.
“So that’s why we made the decision and like I said, Josh is going to be up there to help us out if I get to a point where I don’t feel confident or don’t feel comfortable in running, then he can jump in and help. But as of now, I feel good about it.”
NASCAR granted Elliott a medical waiver for the Playoffs, but he currently sits 34th in points with 18 races remaining in the regular season, so a win is priority No. 1 for the his team to try and make it into the postseason.
The path that lies ahead for Elliott has been accomplished before with Kyle Busch returning from a broken leg in 2015 after 11 weeks out to win five races and the championship.
“I think for us, we’re in a position where we’re going to have to win,” Elliott said of his mindset going forward. “That’s at least how I’m looking at it and how I’ve been thinking about ever since this happened. I figured you miss a few weeks and you’re pretty much going to have to win. So yeah, that’s how I’m looking at it. I don’t think I really change my approach.
“Does that change how we call races from a strategic-standpoint? Yeah, it probably does. But does it change how I drive or how I want the car setup for the weekend? No, we’re always out there trying to win events. But I certainly think it can change your play, as far as a particular race day. You see guys shorten stages to try and get the win, or whatever going for points.
“Obviously, we don’t need to go for points, so anytime you have those decisions to make, the decision is going to be very easy. You play the long game and try to win the event.”
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