It was a long six weeks that Chase Elliott sat on the couch under the air conditioner before returning to the NOCO 400 at Martinsville Speedway in mid-April. The NASCAR Cup Series' favorite driver suffered a broken left leg in a snowboarding accident in early March and had just been methodically preparing to return.
Many expected Elliott to have a difficult time on the course, with the breaking that the course required and the strain that the repaired leg would cause. But he showed no rust and finished 10th after starting the race from 24th place. This was followed by a 14th place finish in the GEICO 500 at Talladega last weekend. They have been great catalysts as the Hendrick Motorsports driver looks to continue to improve over the summer months.
While he still has work to do to improve leg strength and range of motion, Elliott is grateful to be able to compete again. Recently named to NASCAR's 75 Greatest Drivers list, he shared his tips for M&F on getting back on track.
Jared C Tilton/Getty Images
1. Focus on what you can control
I'm a pretty realistic person. I knew I was injured even before I got the x-rays. I had a pretty good feeling not driving this weekend. I had never been injured in my life or had to have an operation. It was new territory for me but the way I looked at it there was nothing I could do about it once it happened and once you get the reality of what the injury is, how long the surgery will take and what the recovery will be like , I've only just started listening to the doctors and putting in so much effort and work to make sure I'm staying on schedule. I think I'm probably a few weeks away from being fully mobile and back to normal in terms of flexibility and athletic activity - certainly moving around and regaining strength in my leg and knee. It's in a really good place and I'm happy with it. I'm working through it right now.
My priority was to get back in the car and get back to work from that vantage point. It was also about getting in position in terms of mobility and bone healing. I can't really do much about that part, but I can certainly work hard to build up some of that muscle that's been dormant for about a month. But my main priority was to get back in the car and drive as I see fit. I was able to get back into the car [in Martinsville] and that was great. I think I have more strength to rebuild and my mobility and range of motion will continue to be worked on.
2. Put the leg to the test
I would say most normal cars where people drive with their right foot and accelerate and brake while their left foot doesn't do much. When I drive the race car, I brake with my left foot and use that foot for the brake and the clutch. Admittedly, we don't use the clutch very much – mostly just for braking – but there's a lot of brake pressure like at Martinsville. I knew what the schedule was at the time the injury happened, I was going to go back somewhere near 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 where I was applying pressure on the brakes and driving consistently, repeating lap times and repeating that over a long period of time. All of these things helped get the green light for the run last weekend.
3. Prepare for summer
While leg strength is important, the environment you ride in is even more important. From a heat perspective, it's very warm in the car and your heart rate is very high, especially if you're in an impaired position or pushing very hard. You still don't get a lot of physical activity and that's usually something you don't see in many sports or at the gym. When your heart rate is high you usually have a lot of exercise, so it's a unique thing for us. Being comfortable in these environments again was big because it's hard to train for, especially after sitting on the couch in the air conditioning for weeks. It was good to get my momentum back and get slapped in the face. I think it's tremendous to get used to as we get into the summer months.
4. There is still work to be done
The physical therapy aspect has remained constant since my injury. With my injury the quad is having a really hard time shooting. Within the first few weeks I lost a lot of muscle mass in the quad because I couldn't contract it. There were lots of quadriceps exercises, lots of leg raises and knee extensions. The second part is restoring mobility and range of motion in the knee - flexor and extensor were difficult for me. Typically, your knee will expand beyond zero on a healthy leg. You straighten it and it goes all the way to zero and you get on the negative side when you stand with your knees locked.
Getting that expansion back was a big piece of the puzzle and I'm still working on getting that full palette back and keeping it loose. Quad strength and range of motion have been the two main areas of focus since I came out of surgery and that seems to be getting better week by week. Great steps were taken in weeks four, five and six marks. w let's get down to the finer details in the backend and just trying to get that last bit. w that I can drive again, I can continue to work on the other things while we try to get back to 100 percent in sport.
5. A little support goes a long way
The fans have been extremely supportive during this time and I'm grateful for their support as we continue to make this happen. It was really cool that my colleagues and other riders reached out, offered their support and caught up because they didn't have to. I thought that said a lot about the environment we race in and my competitors have enough respect to say it was something very significant. To my team in Group 9, to my Hendrick Motorsports team-mates in store and on track, it's been a lot of great support and people are really happy to have me back. It really meant a lot.
Tune in to FS1 this Sunday, April 30th at 2:00pm ET to see Chase compete in the NASCAR Cup Series “Würth 400” from Dover Motor Speedway.