Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

Chase Elliott starting on a path Kyle Busch has walked

Steve Letarte, Jeff Burton, and Marty Snider react to the Chase Elliott news, with Letarte and Burton on the drivers' side and the need for them to find a way to decompress away from the track given the sport's demands.

Kyle Busch was among the first members of the NASCAR community to contact Chase Elliott after the Georgia driver was injured in a snowboarding accident prior to the Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Elliott underwent surgery for a fractured tibia, forcing him to miss last Sunday’s race at Las Vegas and beginning an absence that will stretch into weeks.

MORE: Dale Jr. “thrilled” Josh Berry gets second chance in Chase Elliott’s car

Busch said he wanted to encourage Elliott and to offer him any advice or assistance he might need.

Busch knows this road all too well.

On the 111th lap of the NASCAR Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway in 2015, Busch was involved in a multi-car crash. His car sailed at near-full speed into an inside wall near the end of the frontstretch.

The crash looked significantly worse than the normal car-meets-wall accident at Daytona, and indeed it was. Busch suffered a broken right leg and a fractured left foot and was rushed to an area hospital for surgery.

The Daytona 500, the first race of the Cup Series season, was the next day, and Busch obviously was a no-show. While recovering and then rehabilitating, he would miss the season’s first 11 races.

Busch had won a total of 25 Cup races over the previous seven seasons – but no championship. And some wrote off his 2015 chances in the hours after the Daytona accident, saying the seriousness of his injuries would make competing difficult when he was finally able to race again.

As he would do on so many other occasions over the years, Busch silenced the doubters, winning in his fifth points race back (at Sonoma), scoring three other victories before the playoffs and reaching the top 30 in points – then a NASCAR requirement to make the playoffs – by finishing second at Watkins Glen in his 11th race back.

Then he bounced through the playoffs and won the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to claim his first championship.

Elliott now is in similar territory – with one big exception. Entering this season, NASCAR eliminated the requirement that a driver be in the top 30 in points to qualify for the playoffs. A victory by Elliott in any Cup race when he returns is very likely to put him in the playoffs.

The extent of Elliott’s injury is not known. Hendrick Motorsports described it as a fractured tibia and said that the surgery to repair the injury took three hours. Elliott was released from the hospital the next day.

Significant leg injuries typically have parked drivers for at least one month and sometimes three months. Although Elliott’s recovery and rehabilitation could last longer or shorter than expected. If he returned by the April 23 race at Talladega, that would give him 18 races in the regular season to score a playoff-qualifying race win.

That is certainly enough track time for a seasoned winner to take at least one checkered flag, but it remains true that Elliott will have significantly less time to notch a win and that he is not likely to be comfortable in a race car even when he returns.

Former driver and NASCAR on NBC Sports analyst Kyle Petty said Elliott can make significant contributions to the team during his rehabilitation period.

“Even with a broken leg you can sit in a simulator,” Petty said on the NASCAR On NBC podcast. “Even with a broken leg you can go through data. You can break down a race. Maybe this makes you a better team over time. Maybe Chase has the opportunity to lead and guide and put them in a different position later on.”

Petty said Elliott’s record of success makes it clear he should have no problem adding to his win total when he returns.

“I think he can come back and get in that car and be able to go out and win,” he said. “We know he can win races. Just like we knew Kyle Busch would. We’re talking about a Hendrick car and a driver who can contend week in and week out. Even if you only give him six shots to win a race, he’s got a shot at all six of those, not like some other teams that just have a shot at one.”

Elliott is 27 years old. Busch was 29 at the time of his injury. After returning at the All-Star Race, Busch’s next race was the series’ longest event, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He completed all 400 laps and finished 11th. He placed 36th at Dover, ninth at Pocono and 43rd at Michigan before winning at Sonoma.

In an abbreviated season, Busch still had numbers most drivers would consider excellent: Five wins, 12 top fives and 16 top 10s. And, of course, there was the championship.

Busch’s title was dismissed by some because he failed to run the complete season. He ignored such commentary. “We executed and did our job with the rules that were given to us, and we achieved,” he told reporters. “It doesn’t bother me. I don’t care. The trophy’s sitting at my shop. So, ain’t nobody taking that away from me.”

Elliott likely would take the same approach to the hardware.