After 400 laps around Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Chase Elliott had to sit against his race car to recover from a grueling first race back.
Elliott, who made his return to the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Sunday after a six-week absence because of a broken leg, finished 10th in the Noco 400.
The 27-year-old’s initial reaction was positive, despite feeling slightly out of shape due to the lack of reps in the seat.
“Yeah, it was pretty good, honestly. It was about what I expected, so that’s a good thing. It was warm. I’ve been sitting on the couch for six weeks, so I think that probably hurt me more than anything,” Elliott said.
“But our NAPA Chevy, we struggled every run but the last one. We finally got it going there at the end and I was able to make some passes and do things that I didn’t really think I’d be capable of doing, or at least of us fixing it to that degree here at the race track.
“So I was pleasantly surprised by that. Got us a top 10 out of our first day back, so that’s definitely something to not be too bummed about.”
The HMS driver started 24th, giving Elliott hefty traffic to navigate during the 400-mile race. While the first two stages saw the No. 9 loom around his starting position, Stage three gave the team new life.
Elliott began to pick his way through the field, despite passing having proved difficult throughout the race.
By the time teammate Kyle Larson made the race-winning move on Joey Logano with 29 laps to go, Elliott had climbed to 14th.
The closing laps saw Elliott surge, gaining four more spots by the checkered flag.
HMS President and General Manager Jeff Andrews felt that Elliott’s performance was indicative of the the No. 9 team’s resiliency, despite a rough race early on.
“I think if you saw him after the race just the fight that’s in Chase Elliott. Obviously, that was a tough race on him,” Andrews said. “Tough race on any driver to come here after being out for multiple weeks.
“We didn’t have the best race car today and he and Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) fought all day long together. Chase stayed obviously with Alan and the team and worked hard all day long, and at the end there that thing came to life and seeing him battle his way back up there to a top 10.”
The passion displayed by Elliott and the No. 9 group is one of the reasons the Dawsonville, Ga. native has been NASCAR’s most popular driver for five straight seasons.
The reception was a welcome one for Elliott in Martinsville, who had fans clamoring for a photo or an autograph all weekend.
As Elliott reflected on his return, what stood out to him was the support around the garage area and stands.
“The people, really. From my peers, to my teammates — that competitive nature of being here and wanting to be better,” Elliott said. “Really nice to be back and appreciate the warm welcome this weekend by everybody, so I appreciate that. It definitely didn’t go unnoticed.”