Hendrick Motorsports: 'No timeline' for Chase Elliott's return
LAS VEGAS — Hendrick Motorsports officials said Saturday that “there is no timeline” for Chase Elliott‘s return to NASCAR competition after a snowboarding accident left him with a broken left leg.
The update comes on the eve of Sunday‘s Pennzoil 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Xfinity Series regular Josh Berry is scheduled to substitute in the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, which will end Elliott‘s consecutive starts streak at 254.
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Hendrick officials said Friday that Elliott had injured his left leg while snowboarding in Colorado. Saturday, Jeff Andrews — Hendrick Motorsports president and general manager — indicated that Elliott was recovering and doing well after three hours of surgery Friday to repair a fractured tibia. Andrews said he expected Elliott to be released from the hospital later Saturday.
“At this point in time, we would expect this obviously to be several weeks,” Andrews said. “But beyond that, I don‘t have a timeline to offer for you. We will obviously work with Chase and his doctors in the future to help determine that. But again, I just can‘t reiterate enough that for Mr. Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports, the most important thing is Chase‘s health and his well-being. We will work with him on that timeline.
“We‘re going to race a long time together with Chase Elliott, and we‘re going to win a lot more races together. It‘s certainly a little bit of a setback, and obviously, Chase is very disappointed, but again, I want to reiterate that the most important thing is Chase‘s health. We‘ll have his seat ready for him when he‘s healthy and ready to get back into a race car.”
News of Elliott‘s injury sparked a debate on whether drivers should engage in more adventurous pursuits outside of their primary roles in the NASCAR garage. Andrews said that the organization did not have policies in place to restrict their drivers or personnel from participating in outside activities where the risk of injury was higher and that Elliott‘s accident would not prompt them to re-evaluate those.
“These guys have to go out and live a life outside of the race track, and certainly what Chase was doing was not anything abnormal for him,” Andrews said. “He‘s an experienced snowboarder. He‘s been doing it most of his life, and it was an accident. A similar injury could happen falling off a mountain bike or stepping off a curb while you‘re jogging. It was an accident, and Chase feels awful about it, but our stance is just that — it was an accident, and our guys have to go out and live their lives.”
Team Penske‘s Ryan Blaney, a close friend of Elliott‘s, said he had spoken with Elliott on Saturday morning, relaying that “he‘s bummed out he‘s missing this weekend and things like that. But you know, he‘s trying to look at it as positive as he can.” Blaney added that he‘s been snowboarding with Elliott on previous occasions but not on this recent venture to Colorado.
“Chase is a very experienced snowboarder,” Blaney said. “They lived out there for a long time, he‘s been out there most of his life. You can be doing anything you‘re really good at, and you can have an accident. So yeah, it‘s not like he was doing something he was inexperienced at. It was something he was very comfortable with and just, something happened.”
Veteran Kevin Harvick has a dual-sided perspective on extracurriculars — both as a driver in his final Cup Series season for Stewart-Haas Racing and as the owner of the KHI Management company that represents several other drivers and athletes.
“I‘m in the category with Chase,” said Harvick, a two-time Las Vegas winner. “You know I like to live my life. I like to ski. I like to go do things. I‘ve had just as bad injuries walking around my kitchen, falling over my cat or whatever, playing with my kids or whatever it is. Stuff‘s gonna happen, but you know this deal, there‘s way too much time spent at the race track to not be able to live the rest of your life and to have to live in a bubble is impossible.
“So, you‘ve got to go do the things that you like to do. Just, we would ask that, and I try to do things in a cautious manner and try to think about the consequences of what I‘m doing, and whether it‘s conditions or slopes or taking somebody with me or whatever the case may be, you just try to be smart about it. So, I don‘t know all the circumstances of Chase‘s situation, but we just ask our guys and myself included is to just be smart, just think about what you‘re doing.”
WATCH: Josh Berry to fill in for Elliott: ‘It‘s been an interesting day‘
Berry, 32, is in his second full Xfinity Series season with JR Motorsports, where he has won five times in the last two years. Sunday will mark his third Cup Series start after making a pair in 2021. The No. 9 Chevy was outfitted with a yellow rookie stripe for Berry by Saturday morning.
Andrews said that Berry was chosen primarily for his driving style but also for his size, which is comparable to Elliott‘s. Crew chief Alan Gustafson said the No. 9 team had spent significant time getting the car‘s interior — the seat, leg braces, headrests — fitted for Berry ahead of Saturday‘s practice and qualifying sessions.
“First and foremost, obviously we‘re thinking about Chase,” said Berry, who starts fifth in Saturday‘s Alsco Uniforms 300 (4:30 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM) on the Xfinity side. “This is his ride and his opportunity. I‘m just thankful that these guys — Mr. Hendrick and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports — thought of me to come fill in for him in this moment. Without a doubt, it‘s going to be a great challenge for me. But a great challenge comes with great opportunity for me to learn and grow as a driver and work around a lot of really great, talented and smart people here at Hendrick Motorsports. We‘re just taking it one lap at a time, one day at a time.”
Elliott is an 18-time winner in the NASCAR Cup Series and claimed the series championship in 2020. The 27-year-old driver has opened this season with mixed results — a crash-related 38th in the Daytona 500 and a runner-up finish last week at Auto Club Speedway. Andrews indicated that the team had applied for a waiver for Elliott to retain his eligibility for the Cup Series Playoffs.
Gustafson said that the switch behind the wheel has meant a necessary transition this weekend but that the No. 9 team‘s overall focus remains unchanged.
“Yeah, I think our goals are still the same; our objectives are still the same,” said Gustafson, Elliott‘s crew chief since the 2016 season. “Certainly, things have changed, but we want to compete and compete at a high level. Right now, my focus is really making the transition as easy for Josh as possible, trying to help him get acclimated to the car, feel comfortable and get to a position that he can use his talents and abilities to be successful.
“I think moving forward past that, it‘s still the same goal — to be as good as we possibly can when Chase (Elliott) gets back and win as many races as possible. We‘re certainly still in the owner‘s points, and depending on how the waivers and all the rest of it goes, certainly, if Chase can come back and we can compete at a high level and win, we can be where we want to be with the driver side, too. There‘s certainly a lot of changes that comes with this, but I think we all can learn and grow. Find ways to improve and be ready to go when the playoffs come around.”