Accidents happen. They are simply part of life. But two Hendrick Motorsports drivers injured less than two months apart in non-NASCAR Cup Series-related accidents?
Yes, that’s a bit much. Actually way too much.
That’s why it’s time for team owner Rick Hendrick to take a say in his riders’ after-school activities.
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Chase Elliott has no regrets about his snowboarding adventures
From all appearances, NASCAR Cup Series drivers live very busy lives. In addition to the 38 race weekends a year, if you include the two non-points races in the Cup schedule, the drivers have various commitments throughout the week that take up a lot of time. These commitments typically include attending team meetings, participating in daily workouts, jumping in a race simulator for several hours in preparation for the next race, making one or more sponsor-related appearances, and fulfilling various media duties.
It’s no wonder, then, that when drivers finally have a minute to do whatever they want, they’re happy to use the time by participating in activities they find entertaining. Take Chase Elliott for example. One activity he has long enjoyed is snowboarding.
However, there is only one problem. On a snowboarding trip in Colorado on March 3, Elliott broke his leg – resulting in a three-hour surgery and having to sit out the next six races while his broken tibia heals and he underwent extensive rehabilitation and physical therapy.
Elliott returned to the seat of his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet two weekends ago but missed valuable time, including multiple opportunities to potentially grab a win and snag a ticket to the playoffs.
Well, Elliott absolutely has Win one of the last 16 races of the regular season to qualify for the playoffs. Failure would see NASCAR’s all-time favorite driver miss the playoffs for the first time, because the four missed races have thrown him so far down the standings that he can’t make it into the postseason on points.
But despite all of that, Elliott has no regrets for getting involved in the extracurricular activities that led to his injury and could cost him an opportunity to fight for a championship later this year.
“I’ve been snowboarding for a long time,” Elliott said in an article published April 13 on FOX Sports’ Bob Pockrass or crazy. I don’t have a cool story to tell. It was just this perfect storm that could happen at any time.
“It’s one of those things that I’ve used as a training tool over the years, not unlike riding a bike. I just don’t agree with that view, ‘Well you shouldn’t have done this or you shouldn’t have done that.’ I feel like I make career decisions first. I always have, and this was no different.”
I’ll take Elliott at his word. But does that mean that snowboarding is really the best idea for a professional – and highly paid – racer, who should take all necessary precautions to ensure they show up for work on Sundays?
Alex Bowman faces a climb thanks to an unnecessary injury
As luck would have it, Alex Bowman now finds himself in a situation remarkably similar to the one in which Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott found himself for most of the 2023 season. He is expected to miss the next 3-4 races while he recovers from a fractured vertebra he sustained in an accident while competing in a sprint car event at 34 Raceway in West Burlington on Tuesday , Iowa, attended.
Bowman is currently ninth overall and on a solid footing to reach the playoffs despite being without a win in 10 races this season. But his standings position will no doubt be down by the time he’s sidelined for three or four weeks, so his only path to the playoffs will likely, like Elliott, be a win.
This is a terribly sad and unfortunate situation for Bowman considering he has been one of the most consistent drivers in the sport this season, posting six top 10 finishes in 10 starts. Had it not been for the 60-point penalty he and his team received for failing a post-race inspection at Richmond on April 2, he would have been second overall – just a point behind championship leader Christopher Bell.
Now Bowman, who signed a multi-year contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports before the start of the season, will have to run like his pants are on fire to reach the playoffs – something that still seemed like a foregone conclusion before the news of his impending absence. And to think that scenario could have been avoided if he had just stayed home and played video games on Tuesday night instead of competing in a sprint car race several states away.
Like Elliott, Bowman hasn’t done anything fundamentally wrong. But did the reward really outweigh the risk of sustaining an injury that could jeopardize his ability to successfully carry out his day-to-day work?
Of course not.
Cup Series drivers, especially Hendrick drivers, need to start prioritizing personal safety
Hopefully Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman have learned their lessons and will think twice before engaging in any other activity that could endanger their health and force them to miss track time.
But don’t count on it.
From Elliott’s comments a few weeks ago, it’s clear he has no regrets going snowboarding and plans to get back into his beloved hobby as soon as possible.
As for Bowman, one can only speculate about his future plans, but again I won’t hold my breath. If I had to guess, he’ll be back in a sprint car before you know it.
While some might argue that there’s no point in going overboard when it comes to personal safety for people who drive NASCAR stock cars for a living, I passionately disagree.
Sure, driving a Cup Series car involves certain risks, but NASCAR has spent most of the last two and a half decades implementing safety improvements that make these cars virtually bulletproof. Can a driver still be injured? But of course. Just last season, Bowman and Kurt Busch missed an extended period of time to deal with concussions they sustained in a Next Generation Cup Series vehicle.
But NASCAR has responded accordingly during the offseason, making great efforts to make the next-gen car significantly safer. is it perfect Certainly not, but the fact that Kyle Larson and Ryan Preece both got away from a horrific collision in Talladega last weekend speaks to how protected these drivers are in their cars.
The bottom line? NASCAR has done its job of getting drivers out of the way when they’re strapped into their machines. Now is the time for drivers – and Hendrick Motorsports drivers in particular – to leave no stone unturned to stay safe when they have their free time.
If I’m Rick Hendrick and two of my drivers have had to sit out in less than two months due to non-Cup Series related injuries, I’ll say enough is enough and have them sign an agreement today that they won’t be competing during non-essential extracurricular activities that pose an increased risk of injury or death.
Of course, that doesn’t mean they can’t get in their personal vehicle and drive to the grocery store, post office, or race shop. Such activity would fall under the category of “material”. The same applies to sports or vacations that do not pose an increased risk of injury or death.
But the days of drivers snowboarding, skydiving, bungee jumping, or competing in non-NASCAR sanctioned races should be over. After all, these guys have sort of made it, especially when they’re driving for Hendrick Motorsports – arguably the best team in NASCAR and winners of four of the first 10 races of the season.
The least they can do for their fans, team members, team owners and, yes, multi-million dollar sponsors is to relax a little and not put themselves in a precarious position during that precious little downtime they have .