NASCAR Cup Series
Points Report: NASCAR Cup Series NOCO 400 at Martinsville Speedway
Apr 16, 2023
Chase Elliott returned to NASCAR Cup Series competition over the weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway very much looking like he’d never left.
The 27-year-old didn’t even use a crutch or cane to assist with his walking from garage to car and vice versa - despite his recovery from a broken leg suffered while snowboarding in March. He’s missed six races and yet returned to immediately put in an impressive 10th-place effort Sunday at a demanding short track.
The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion was quick in practice and if not for a slight bobble in his qualifying effort in the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, he may very well have advanced to the final qualifying round.
The 400-lap race on the half-mile Martinsville track was relatively tame in terms of the kind of door-banging multi-car accidents seen over the years at the facility. And while Elliott ran a lot of the race mid-pack he was able to take advantage of a well-timed caution flag at the end, hold track position and earn a solid, promising finish in his first true, live-action test behind the wheel since early March.
Certainly, he noted, the large and loud outpouring of support from the Elliott-faithful in the Martinsville crowd helped too. From driver introductions to the time he climbed out of his famed Chevy after the race, there were loud, steady and unmistakable cheers.
“Really nice to be back and I appreciate the warm welcome this weekend by everybody,” Elliott said post-race. “I appreciate that and it didn’t go unnoticed.”
Elliott has already received a waiver from NASCAR that if he wins a race, he will be Playoff eligible. He has a pair of top-10s – one a top-5 - in the three races he’s competed in now.
Having gotten back in the stock car saddle – so to speak – he is now readying for one of the biggest races of the season at the biggest track (2.66-miles) of the season, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway; a place where the Georgia native is absolutely beloved.
Drivers typically insist they have little to do with the speed of the car there; that it’s just flat-out lap after lap. So Talladega represents a huge mental test and one that Elliott has proven he’s up to as the most recent winner of the high-banks. He’s got two Talladega trophies – last October in a blink of an eye, .046-seconds over his good buddy Ryan Blaney and back in 2019 over his Hendrick teammate Alex Bowman.
And while adrenaline certainly played some role in his first race back over the weekend, it will be interesting to see how Elliott fares at Talladega – the fan support there again likely to boost his recovery spirits.
Hendrick Motorsports President Jeff Andrews had nothing but praise for Elliott following that impressive return on Sunday, saying “If you saw him after the race, just the fight that’s in Chase Elliott.”
And Elliott’s teammate Kyle Larson, who won the race, was equally struck by the effort and result. But not surprised.
“I think he challenges himself, but also challenges us all drivers and crew chiefs and engineers to think more,” Larson said. “Asking questions, talking about his car. He does a very good job of explaining what he feels and even between changes, they’ll pit, make an adjustment in practice and then he can read that adjustment pretty quickly and tell if it’s better or worse.
Larson said of having him back, “He is definitely an asset for sure. He is one of the best drivers in the sport, so it’s been nice to have him back.”
Qualifying for the GEICO 500 at Talladega is set for Saturday. The NASCAR Cup Series takes the green flag at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
-Photo credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images