It’s High Time That Hendrick Motorsports Drivers Start Taking Their Day Jobs More Seriously
Accidents happen. They’re just part of living. But two Hendrick Motorsports drivers getting injured in non-NASCAR Cup Series-related accidents less than two months apart?
Yeah, that’s a bit much. Actually, way too much.
And for this reason, it’s time for team owner Rick Hendrick to start having a say in the kinds of extracurricular activities his drivers engage in.
Chase Elliott has no regrets about his snowboarding adventures
By all accounts, NASCAR Cup Series drivers live very busy lives. On top of competing 38 weekends out of the year, if you include the two non-points races on the Cup schedule, drivers have various obligations throughout the week that occupy a lot of their time. These commitments typically include attending a team meeting, participating in daily workouts, jumping in a race simulator for several hours to prepare for the next race, making one or multiple sponsor-related appearances, and fulfilling various media duties.
So, it’s no wonder that when drivers finally get a minute to do as they please, they like to take advantage of the time by participating in what they consider fun activities. Take Chase Elliott, for example. One activity he’s long enjoyed is snowboarding.
There’s just one problem, though. It was on a snowboarding trip in Colorado on March 3 that Elliott broke his leg — resulting in three hours of surgery and the need to sit out the next six races while his fractured tibia healed and he underwent extensive rehabilitation and physical therapy.
Elliott returned to the seat of his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet two weekends ago, but he missed valuable time that included multiple opportunities to potentially snare a victory and punch a ticket into the playoffs.
Now, Elliott absolutely has to win one of the final 16 races in the regular season to become playoff-eligible. Failure to win would result in NASCAR’s perennial most popular driver missing the playoffs for the first time because the four races he missed dropped him so far down in the standings that he can’t make the postseason on the basis of points.
But despite all of this, Elliott has no regrets about engaging in the extracurricular activity that led to his injury and might cost him an opportunity to compete for a championship later this year.
“Snowboarding is something that I’ve been doing for a long time,” Elliott told FOX Sports’ Bob Pockrass in an article published on April 13. “I’m comfortable doing it, and I wasn’t out doing anything that was wild or crazy. I don’t have a cool story to tell. It was just that perfect storm that could happen at any point in time.
“It’s one of those things that I’ve used as a training tool over the years, no different than riding bikes. I just don’t agree with that viewpoint of, ‘Well you shouldn’t have been doing this or you shouldn’t have been doing that.’ I feel like I make decisions with my career in mind first. I always have, and this was no different.”
I’ll take Elliott at his word. But does that mean going snowboarding is really the best idea for a professional — and highly compensated — race car driver who should take every necessary precaution to ensure he’s actually showing up for work on Sundays?
Alex Bowman faces an uphill climb thanks to an unnecessary injury
As misfortune would have it, Alex Bowman now finds himself in a situation remarkably similar to the one Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott has been in for most of the 2023 season. He’s expected to miss the next 3-4 races while recovering from a fractured vertebra he suffered in a crash while participating in a sprint car event on Tuesday at 34 Raceway in West Burlington, Iowa.
Bowman is currently ninth in the standings and on solid footing to make the playoffs despite being winless in 10 races this season. But his position in the standings will have undoubtedly plummeted by the time he’s sidelined for three or four weeks, so, like Elliott, his only way into the playoffs will likely be through a win.
This is a terribly sad and unfortunate predicament for Bowman to be in when you consider that he’s been one of the sport’s most consistent drivers this season, earning six top-10 finishes in 10 starts. In fact, had it not been for a 60-point penalty that he and his team received after flunking an inspection following the race at Richmond on April 2, he’d be second in the standings — just one point behind championship leader Christopher Bell.
Now, Bowman, who signed a multi-year contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports before the season began, is going to have to run like his pants are on fire to make the playoffs — something that still seemed like a foregone conclusion prior to the news of his impending absence. And to think this scenario could’ve been avoided if he’d simply stayed home and played video games on Tuesday night instead of participating in a sprint car race several states away.
Just like Elliott, Bowman didn’t do anything inherently wrong. But did the reward truly outweigh the risk of suffering an injury that could jeopardize his ability to successfully perform his day job?
Of course it didn’t.
Cup Series drivers, especially Hendrick drivers, must start prioritizing personal safety
Hopefully, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman have learned their lessons and will think twice before pursuing another activity that could put their health at risk and force them to miss time at the track.
Don’t count on it, though.
From Elliott’s comments just a couple of weeks ago, it sounds like he has no regrets about going snowboarding and plans to pick up his cherished hobby again as soon as possible.
As for Bowman, one can only speculate about his future plans, but I won’t hold my breath there, either. If I had to guess, he’ll be back in a sprint car before you know it.
While some might argue that it makes no sense for people who drive NASCAR stock cars for a living to go overboard in the area of personal safety, I passionately disagree.
Sure, driving a Cup Series car carries certain risks, but NASCAR has spent the better part of the last two-and-a-half decades rolling out safety enhancements that make these cars virtually bulletproof. Can a driver still get hurt? Well, of course. Just last season, Bowman and Kurt Busch both missed extended time dealing with concussions they suffered in a Next Generation Cup Series vehicle.
But, NASCAR reacted accordingly during the offseason and went to great lengths to make the Next Generation car significantly safer. Is it perfect? Certainly not, but the fact that Kyle Larson and Ryan Preece both walked away from a horrific collision last weekend at Talladega speaks to just how protected these drivers are inside their cars.
The bottom line? NASCAR has done its job to keep drivers out of harm’s way when they’re strapped into their machines. Now, it’s time for the drivers — and especially the drivers at Hendrick Motorsports — to leave no stone unturned in staying safe when they’re on their own time.
If I’m Rick Hendrick and I’ve had two of my drivers sidelined with non-Cup Series-related injuries in less than two months, I’m saying enough is enough and making them sign an agreement today saying they won’t participate in non-essential extracurricular activities that pose an increased risk of injury or death.
Naturally, this doesn’t mean they’re not allowed to get in their personal vehicle and drive to the grocery store or post office, or race shop. Such an activity would fall under the category of “essential.” Ditto for exercising or taking a vacation, which don’t pose an increased risk of injury or death.
But the days of drivers snowboarding or skydiving or bungee jumping or competing in non-NASCAR sanctioned races should be over. After all, these guys kind of have it made already, especially if they drive for Hendrick Motorsports — hands-down the best team in NASCAR and a winner of four of the season’s first 10 races.
The least they can do for their fans, team members, team owner and, yes, multimillion dollar sponsors is chill out a bit and not put themselves in a precarious spot during the precious little downtime they have.