Hendrick Motorsports announced Wednesday that Chase Elliott will return to the driver's seat of the No. 9 Chevrolet this weekend at Martinsville Speedway after missing the past six Cup Series races due to a leg injury. Elliott was medically cleared Tuesday to return from a on March 3, and the decision to have Elliott return to racing was made after tests at Chevrolet's Driver-in-the-Loop simulator on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Elliott had surgery on his left leg in Vail, Colo. almost immediately following his accident, and he then spent March and early April rehabilitating in Colorado as well as his native Dawsonville, Ga.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Elliott confirmed that his injury was towards the top part of his tibia near his knee, but that he avoided a more serious injury such as an ACL or meniscus tear. Elliott now has a few screws in his tibia and does not anticipate needing further surgery.
Elliott defended his decision to go snowboarding before a race weekend, saying that he believed he would continue to snowboard and enjoy his life while sharing that his injury did not come about by doing anything reckless.
"I think you have to have that way to escape and let your mind rest a little bit," Elliott said. "Look, the accident could've happened tripping down stairs or on a jog or anything. Snowboarding is something that I've been doing for a long time, I'm comfortable with it. I wasn't out doing anything that was wild or crazy. I don't have a cool story to tell. It was just that perfect storm that could've happened at any point in time honestly.
"It's one of those things that I've used as a training tool over the years as well, no different than riding bikes or any of the above. I don't agree with that viewpoint of, 'Well, you shouldn't have been doing this' or 'You shouldn't have been doing that.' I feel like I make decisions with my career in mind first, and I always have. This was no different. It was just a perfect storm and an unfortunate accident."
Admittedly, Elliott said that it would be tough to return during a stretch of races that includes not only Martinsville, where he will have to brake hard constantly with his left foot, but also Talladega, where there is a greater risk for heavy impact in crashes. While Elliott anticipates he will be back to normal on race weekends moving forward, Josh Berry will serve on standby as a relief driver should Elliott feel he is unable to complete the race at Martinsville this weekend.
"I wouldn't go this weekend if I didn't feel like I could do it. And ultimately, that's my decision," Elliott said. "The doctors and I have been in conversations for the whole time, really. And we just felt like the integrity of the bone is to a point where I'm not gonna hurt it in that manner, and it's just about building that strength back and getting to a point where you're comfortable enough with your range of motion and things of that nature to get in there and do a good job. And I felt like this was the right week to do it.
"I feel good. The doctors got to a point where they were comfortable with it and they left it up to me to decide when I was ready. We had a good couple days in the sim, and that led to building some confidence in wanting to go ahead and move forward and go to Martinsville."
Elliott's No. 9 has been driven by NASCAR Xfinity Series star Josh Berry in five out of the last six races, with Berry earning two top 10s and a best finish of second at Richmond. IMSA driver Jordan Taylor drove Elliott's car at Circuit of the Americas, finishing 24th in his NASCAR debut.
"We're looking forward to having Chase back in his race car to pick up where he left off," read a statement by team owner Rick Hendrick. "Since the injury, he's worked extremely hard and focused all his time and energy on returning to the No. 9 team. Throughout the last six weeks, he's stayed fully engaged with everything we're doing, and we know he's chomping at the bit to get on the racetrack and compete for wins."
Elliott, the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion and last year's regular season champion, finished second in his most recent Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in February. He has received a medical waiver from NASCAR to remain eligible for the 2023 playoffs.