MARTINSVILLE, Va. – NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver was out of the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro for six weeks after suffering a broken leg while snowboarding in Colorado.
But he made his presence known with a late charge through the field to finish tenth in Sunday’s NOCO 400 at Martinsville Speedway.
“I’ve been sitting on the couch for six weeks,” Elliott chuckled. “So I think that probably hurt me more than anything. 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.”
It was a looming question not only of when his return would take place but where he would be back on track. For a physical short track such as Martinsville, it was a bit of a surprise to have that as the circuit of choice but Elliott felt comfortable in the seat during the race. Josh Berry, who had been the primary substitute for Hendrick Motorsports, was on standby for the duration of the race but was not needed as Elliott powered his way through all 400 scheduled laps.
“Yeah, (my leg) was pretty good, honestly,” he explained. “It was about what I expected, so that’s a good thing.”
Some drivers alluded to the slightly declining television ratings with Elliott’s absence. 2014 Cup Champion Kevin Harvick shared that it was important for the 2020 Champion to return as quickly as possible. At first sight of returning, Elliott was all smiles getting back to what he enjoyed most.
Racing? Not necessarily.
“The people, really,” Elliott shared when asked by the media on what he missed most being away from the track. “From my peers, to my teammates – that competitive nature of being here and wanting to be better. Really nice to be back and appreciate the warm welcome this weekend by everybody, so I appreciate that. It definitely didn’t go unnoticed.”
Though not teammates, Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace both approached him after the race with laughs and handshakes. The three companions all battled from mid-race struggles to secure top 10 finishes for their teams.
It’s almost as if Elliott never missed a beat.
“That top 10 is something to be proud of.”