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Chase Elliott battles to 10th-place finish in return

Dale Jarrett and Nate Ryan evaluate Chase Elliott's return to the NASCAR Cup Series after his top-ten finish for Hendrick Motorsports at Martinsville following an injury that caused him to miss six races.

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Spotter Eddie D’Hondt echoed the feelings of Chase Elliott fans when he told the sport’s most popular driver “welcome back, bud” before Sunday’s Cup race at Martinsville Speedway.

Elliott returned to racing six weeks after he broke his left tibia in a snowboarding accident and finished 10th.

“Top 10 is nothing to be too upset about,” Elliott said after the 400-lap race at the historic half-mile track.

The question entering this race was how Elliott would feel after the event. Drivers brake with their left foot. That would stress his repaired leg.

“It was pretty good, honestly.” Elliott said of his leg. “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 the main issue with his leg after the race was it being “super stiff. Fortunately, my knee is in a pretty nice position in the car with a little bend in it. It’s not like you have to have it super straight, so that was good.”

It wasn’t an easy day for Elliott. He started 24th and did not climb inside the top 20 until Lap 258 when he moved up to 19th.

He was 22nd on a restart at Lap 355 and worked his way up to 10th, getting past Austin Dillon on Lap 394 to reach the top 10.

“We struggled every run but the last one,” Elliott said. “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.”

Asked if Elliott’s performance sent a message, Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, said: “I think if you saw him after the race, just the fight that is in Chase Elliott. Obviously that was a tough race on him, tough race on any driver. … We didn’t have the best race cars today, and he and (crew chief Alan Gustafson) fought all day long together.”

Martinsville winner Kyle Larson was glad to have Elliott back this weekend.

“Just having him a part of the debrief after practice and qualifying again was nice,” Larson said. “He always brings something a little different to the comments between all four of us. I think he challenges himself, but he challenges us all drivers and crew chiefs and engineers to think more … differently.”