NASCAR Cup Series
NASCAR drivers weigh risks of recreational activities in wake of Chase Elliott injury
NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR drivers weigh risks of recreational activities in wake of Chase Elliott injury

Updated Mar. 6, 2023 3:51 p.m. ET

LAS VEGAS — Kevin Harvick has owned race teams and operates a company that represents and advises young drivers.

He tells them to be smart, but to live their lives.

"Life happens," Harvick said. "You have to be able to go out and live your life to keep yourself sane or this deal will eat you up."

Sometimes living their lives will eat them up, too, as Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott could attest. Elliott broke his left tibia Friday in a snowboarding accident.


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Elliott underwent three hours of surgery Friday night and was released from a Colorado hospital Saturday. He hopes to start rehab Monday but will be out several weeks, according to the race team.

Hendrick Motorsports used to frown on its drivers competing in sprint-car events and other dangerous activities. Team owner Rick Hendrick has loosened that policy in recent years and team president Jeff Andrews said Saturday that he doesn't anticipate a change.

"These guys have to go out and live a life outside of the racetrack," Andrews said.

Elliott's family has had a home in Vail for several years and he is an experienced snowboarder. Ryan Blaney has joined him on some of the trips and William Byron, Elliott's teammate who won the Cup race Sunday at Las Vegas, also has snowboarded in his spare time.

"The best thing for a race car driver during the week is to try to let the stress go," Byron said. "It's a very stressful sport. It's high intensity, high adrenaline, and you have to find something."

Blaney, one of Elliott's closest friends, talked to him following the accident.

"He's bummed out," Blaney said. "He's missing this weekend and then things like that, but he's trying to look at it as positive as he can."

Blaney on Elliott injury

Ryan Blaney says his friend, Chase Elliott, is bummed out about his accident but is trying to remain positive about the situation.

Neither Elliott nor the team have said exactly what happened. Blaney was not with Elliott on this trip in Vail.

"Chase has grown up there and is a very experienced guy on a board," Blaney said. "It was an accident. Accidents happen all the time."

Joe Gibbs Racing is one of the few teams that does limit its drivers' activities. Christopher Bell, whose racing foundation is sprint cars, is not allowed to race them.

"It's all a trade-off," Bell said. "This is a perfect example of why Coach [Gibbs] is protective over his drivers because he values us and wants us to be healthy and continue to perform at this level.

"You have to talk about risk vs. reward."

Drivers argue that racing any type of car can help them stay sharp as NASCAR has reduced practice time from 100 minutes a race weekend prior to 2020 to now 20 minutes a race weekend.

Kyle Busch broke his right leg and left ankle in an Xfinity Series wreck in 2015 driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.

"I was racing late models and a little bit of dirt cars, [and] Joe would always kind of warn me not to get hurt or whatever," Busch said. "Then I got hurt in his car doing something for him, so it was like, ‘Any stipulations you ever had were out the window.'

"I had free rein. It's a part of it. You never know what's going to happen. You just deal with it when it comes."

Busch owns a team that competes in NASCAR's truck series. He doesn't put any restrictions on his drivers.

Busch on driver activities

Kyle Busch say he puts no restrictions on his truck series drivers and what they can do away from the racetrack.

Neither do Cup team co-owners Denny Hamlin (23XI Racing) and Brad Keselowski (RFK Racing).

"We recognize things are going to happen from time to time," Keselowski said. "We ask all of our people — not just our drivers [but] our pit-crew people and mechanics — we ask all of them to try to do the best they can and not take unnecessary risks.

"What that line is, is probably different for everyone."

Hamlin tore his ACL in 2015 playing basketball and had surgery during an off-week. He didn't miss any races.

"Anything that they want to do racing-wise, they need to get permission for," Hamlin said. "But nothing outside [of that].

"It would be hard for me to restrict them when they know that I don't limit myself for sure."

Having suffered a broken back 10 years ago in a wreck at Fontana, Hamlin missed four races.

"I know what it's like to lay there and have these issues," Hamlin said. "It's no fun. ... This period will be tough for [Elliott], but I think he probably will come out stronger."

No driver restrictions?

With Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski both being team owners in addition to Cup drivers, they don’t put restrictions on their drivers away from the track.

Obviously, drivers are going to argue that they should have the freedom to do what they want. But team owners have sponsors and other employees relying on the performance of the driver.

Martin Truex Jr. said he actually stopped snowboarding several years ago because he didn't feel he was skilled enough at it and was putting himself in danger.

"I wasn't very smart," Truex said. "I was aggressive. ... I just got worried about it. That was just my decision."

Hendrick, though, didn't seem to mind that Elliott was snowboarding.

"What Chase was doing was not anything abnormal for him," Hendrick president and GM Jeff Andrews said. "He's an experienced snowboarder. He's been doing it most of his life and it was an accident.

"A similar injury could happen falling off a mountain bike or stepping off a curb while you're jogging. It was an accident, and Chase feels awful about it."

Harvick said that with a 38-race schedule, the grueling nature of the sport requires that attitude.

"I'm in the category with Chase," Harvick said. "I like to live my life. I like to ski. I like to go do things. ... Stuff is going to happen. There is way too much time spent at the racetrack to not be able to live the rest of your life.

"To have to live in a bubble is impossible. You've got to go do the things you like to do. I try to do things in a cautious manner and try to think about the consequences in what I'm doing, whether it's conditions or [certain] slopes. You try to be smart about it."

Hitting the slopes

Kyle Larson says he and his family will continue to ski despite Chase Elliott's injury.

Thinking Out Loud

NASCAR is going to a revised short-track and road-course package (see news below) starting this weekend in Phoenix. Prior to the test in late January, there was discussion that there might not be enough time to implement any revisions.

But NASCAR made a good move in making the revisions — which are based on removing pieces. So no new parts really need to be made. And while the teams might wish they had more time to science things out, NASCAR needs to get the racing better on the short tracks and road courses.

There wasn't time to wait. This is one of those situations where it is better to try something and not be successful and keep working toward the goal. There was nothing gained by waiting and likely seeing another frustrating race at tracks that previously had some of the most exciting races.

In The News

 Among the news of the last week:

  • Todd Gilliland will run a third Front Row Motorsports car at Talladega as he will attempt to qualify the No. 36 car. That gives him a full 2023 schedule — 31 races at Front Row and five at Rick Ware Racing. Zane Smith is replacing Gilliland in six races in the No. 38 car this year.
  • NASCAR suspended two Truex crew members — rear tire changer Danny Olszowy and jackman Kellen Mills — for two races for the wheel coming off at Fontana. Noah Gragson rear changer Michael Louria moved to Truex's car (Joe Gibbs Racing leases a crew to Legacy Motor Club for Gragson) and jackman David O'Dell came from a JGR Xfinity car to also work for Truex. Gragson's new rear changer Austin Maloney and O'Dell both worked on the Travis Pastrana crew for the Daytona 500.
  • NASCAR confirmed the change to its short-track and road-course package for all races except Bristol and Dover. Those tracks aren't using the "damp weather" setup and therefore it keeps things simple for teams: a damp weather short-track and road course package and then a general package for all races except those and the superspeedway events. The new short-track package reduces the rear spoiler from four inches to two inches and also changes other items underneath the car to reduce downforce and make the cars less stable, hopefully increasing the ability to pass. Teams will get 50 minutes of practice at Phoenix this Friday to work on the changes.

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Stat of the Day

It is the first time in 13 years that one manufacturer has won each of the first three races in a season. Chevrolet did it in 2010 with Jamie McMurray and two Jimmie Johnson wins, and now has done it again in 2023 with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch and William Byron.

They Said It

"I've led a lot of laps in a couple races, but to be this good in a race with our team is definitely a good sign." —William Byron after leading 176 of 271 laps in winning at Las Vegas

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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