Column: Chase Elliott Returns, Ross Chastain Relives Last Race At Martinsville & Jimmie Johnson Receives High Honor
Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – MARTINSVILLE, VA – Chase 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 matter.
“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.’’
Chastain Returns to Memorable Martinsville
Ross Chastain is returning to the track that essentially made him a household name for NASCAR fans. Last October he rode the wall on the last lap of the championship-qualifying race here and passed five cars in the final corner to earn a position in the Championship Four season finale.
Since then the Florida watermelon farmer has been celebrated for that dramatic and fateful move in the race – something he’s appreciated. But the soft-spoken driver of the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet says he’s much more concerned with the present than the past – and ready to win his first race of 2023.
What’s it like being back at Martinsville for the first race since then?
“It’s different, but that was a life-changing moment for myself and my team, everybody around me and we’ll continue to feel the benefits of that for years to come,’’ said Chastain, who will start the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet 34th on Sunday.
“That doesn’t take anything away from the competition though. This place has humbled me for a decade through the (CRAFTSMAN) Truck Series, Xfinity and Cup and continued to do that yesterday in the truck race. So as much as it’s cool and awesome and we have a piece of the wall – I don’t think any other driver has been able to take a piece of the wall home – still it doesn’t help with lap time.”
Jimmie Johnson to Join National Motorsports Hall of Fame
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson has been selected to the National Motorsports Hall of Fame of America’s 2024 induction class, the hall announced Friday.
The 47-year old, 84-race winner and current owner of the NASCAR Cup Series’ Legacy Motor Club team will be NASCAR’s representative in the induction ceremonies next March joining esteemed fellow nominees such as his former Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar series teammate Scott Dixon along with Jim Downing and Dr. Robert Hubbard, creators of the HANS device.
“It’s an incredible honor to be inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America,” Johnson said. “I’ve been fortunate throughout my racing career to be honored in many ways and to be recognized in this capacity is really humbling.
“I took part in the induction ceremonies of Tony Stewart in 2019 and my childhood mentor Ricky Johnson in 2012, so to be added to this elite group of individuals – by the equally impressive voting panel – is really special. I’m so thankful.’’
His friend and fellow Hall inductee Tony Stewart was especially proud to see Johnson get the nod.
“I think the world of him anyway,’’ Stewart said, “I always tell him when I grow up I want to be him and there’s an element of truth to that. There’s no one that’s done all he’s done with the amount of class and charisma that Jimmie has.
“No one has left a mark like Jimmie Johnson in this era. There’s no one more deserving than Jimmie.’’