Chase Elliott doesn’t blame his ‘abysmal qualifying lap’ on his injury

MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA - APRIL 15: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, enters his car during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series NOCO 400 at Martinsville Speedway on April 15, 2023 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Chase Elliott will roll off 24th Sunday in his first race back from injury. The former Martinsville winner broke his leg six weeks ago and is marking his return to the seat of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet this weekend.

“Felt pretty good, but abysmal qualifying lap and I can’t really blame my leg on that one,’’ Elliott said. “I had a pretty good first lap and then really messed up in [Turn] two on the second one. Judging off of practice, starting in the back is going to be a lot of fun, looking forward to that in the ole’ NAPA Chevy.”

Of his comfort level, Elliott said, “I feel fine in the car. My entire practice run I felt fine and once you kind of get out there on the track and start focusing on the little things that you need to be doing in your car, some of that goes away so that’s a good thing. My qualifying lap wasn’t because of that, just a poor effort.’’

Elliott’s competitors say while they are glad to have the sport’s Most Popular Driver back on the grid this weekend after a six-week absence to mend a broken leg, they also expect it to be a real test physically for the 27-year old former series champ.

One of the drivers who spoke with Elliott during his recovery particularly understands the challenges. Veteran Kyle Busch broke his leg in a crash in the 2015 Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway – the day before the DAYTONA 500. Busch suffered a break in his right leg and left foot. He went on to miss the opening 11 races of the season but still returned to win five races and his first NASCAR Cup Series championship.

“We just talked a little bit back and forth about my experience of my injury and what my stuff was like,’’ Busch said Saturday before Busch Light Pole Qualifying at Martinsville. “Everybody’s injuries are different, but my leg injury was different than his leg injury. It was actual more similar to my foot, where I had plates and screws in my foot.

“It was not always the easiest to endure a race with the left foot braking and all that sort of stuff. His is more knee and joint related. If he runs the whole race, he’s going to be sore afterwards. It’s just not easy to jump right back in and go. Even in my fifth week when I won at Sonoma (road course race), I couldn’t walk afterwards, it hurt so bad.

“Welcome him back though. It’s great to have him back. I think a lot of fans missed him and want to see him back in the car.’’

Elliott sure didn’t look like his injury slowed him down much judging from his first laps out in the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. He was 10th fastest in practice and the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion and reigning Most Popular Driver was optimistic about coming back to compete this weekend.

“I think you have to step back and look at the situation,’’ said Elliott, who broke the tibia in his left leg while snowboarding in March.

“I think everybody needs to recognize that I wouldn’t go this weekend if I didn’t feel like I could do it. Ultimately that’s my decision. The doctors and I have been in conversations the whole time really, and we just feel like I’m to a point now where the integrity of the bone is to a point where I’m not going to hurt it in that manner.

“It’s about building that strength back and getting to a point where you’re comfortable with your range of motion and things of that nature to get in there and do a good job and I feel like this is the right week to do it.’’