It had been a long six weeks of sitting on the couch under the air conditioner for Chase Elliott before his return to the NOCO 400 at Martinsville Speedway in mid-April. The NASCAR Cup Series most popular driver sustained a broken left leg during a snowboarding accident in early March and had just been methodically building himself back up to a return.
Many expected Elliott to have a difficult time on the course with the breaking the course requires and the stress that would place on the repaired leg. But he showed no rust, finishing 10th after starting the race in the 24th position. He followed that up with a 14th place finish at the GEICO 500 this past weekend in Talladega. They’ve been great momentum builders as the Hendrick Motorsports driver looks to continue improving heading into the summer months.
While he still has some work left to do in increasing the strength and range of motion in the leg, Elliott is grateful to be back competing. Recently being added to NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers list, he shared his tips for getting back on the track with M&F.
1. Focus On What You Can Control
I’m a pretty realistic person. I knew I was hurt before I even got the X-rays. I had a pretty good feeling I wasn’t racing that weekend. I had never hurt myself or had to have surgery in my life. It was uncharted territory for me but the way I looked at it was that I couldn’t do anything about it once it happened and once you get the reality of what the injury is, how long surgery is going to be, and what the recovery is going to look like, I just really started listening to the doctors and putting in as much effort and work in on my end to make sure I stayed on schedule. I think I’m probably a few weeks out of being completely mobile and back to normal as it pertains to flexibility and athletic movement — certainly getting around and building strength back in my leg and knee. It’s in a really good place and I’ve been happy with that. I’m just working through it.
My priority was getting back in the car and just getting back to work from that standpoint. It was also about getting in position from a mobility and a bone-healing standpoint. I can’t really do much about that part, but I can certainly work hard at building some of that muscle back that was dormant for a month or so. But my main priority was getting back in the car and being able to perform as I feel l normally would. I was able to get back in the car [in Martinsville] and that was great. I think I have more strength to build back, and my mobility and range of motion are going to continue to be worked on.
2. Putting the Leg To The Test
I would say most regular cars that people drive and use the throttle and the break with their right foot while the left foot doesn’t do a whole lot. For me, driving in the race car, I brake with my left foot and I’m using that foot for the break and the clutch. Granted, we don’t use the clutch very much — mainly just to brake — but there is a lot of brake pressure like in Martinsville. I knew back when the injury happened, how the schedule lined up, I would return somewhere around Martinsville or Talladega and the doctor wasn’t going to let me go until then. I went to the simulator and just tried to put myself in those situations of putting pressure on the brakes and going it consistently, repeating lap times, and repeating that for a long period of time. All those things factored into getting the go-ahead to run last weekend.
3. Bracing for the Summer
While leg strength is important, more important, is the environment you race in. From a heat standpoint, it’s very warm in the car and your heart rate is very high especially if you’re in a compromised position or you’re pushing very hard. You still don’t have a lot of physical movement and that is usually something you don’t see in a lot of sports or when you’re in the gym. If your heart rate is up, you usually have a lot of motion, so it’s a unique thing for us. Being comfortable in those environments again was big because it’s hard to train for that, especially when you’ve been sitting on the couch for weeks in the AC. It was good to get back in the swing go things and get hit in the face. I think getting back used to that is huge as we get into the summer months.
4. Still Some Work Left To Do
The physical therapy aspect has been consistent since I’ve gotten hurt. With my injury, the quad has a really hard time firing. Within the first couple of weeks, I lost a lot of muscle mass in the quad because I couldn’t flex it. It’s been a lot of quad-strengthening workouts, a lot of leg raises, and knee extensions. The second part is getting the mobility and the range of motion back in the knee — on the bending side and the straightening side has been hard for me. Typically, on a healthy leg, your knee extends past zero. You straighten it out and it gets all the way to zero and you get on the negative side when you’re standing with your knees locked.
Getting that extension back was a big piece of the puzzle and I’m still working on getting that complete range back and keeping it loose. Quad strength and range of motion have been the two key points of focus since I’ve gotten out of surgery and that seems to get better week by week. There were big steps being made through weeks four, five, and six mark. Now, we’re getting to those finer details on the backend, just trying to get that last little bit. Now that I’m at a place where I can drive again, I can keep working on the other things as we go along to try and get back to 100 percent from an athletic standpoint.
5. A Little Support Goes A Long Way
The fans have been extremely supportive of me through this period and I’m grateful for their support as we continue to work through it. With my peers and other drivers reaching out, offering their support, and catching up was really cool because they don’t have to do that. I thought that says a lot about the environment we race in and that my competitors have enough respect to say something has been very meaningful. To my team at the No. 9 group to my teammates at Hendrick Motorsports at the shop and the track, it’s been a lot of great support, and people are genuinely happy to have me back. It really meant a lot.
You can tune in to FS1 at 2 p.m. ET this Sunday, Apr. 30 to see Chase compete at the NASCAR Cup Series “Würth 400” from Dover Motor Speedway.