Chevy Press Conference Chase Elliott's Injury
Team Chevy Press Conf. Transcript - March 4, 2023
jeff andrews, president and general manager, hendrick motorsports; alan gustafson, crew chief, NO. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Camaro ZL1; and Josh Berry, fill-in driver for the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Camaro ZL1 - Press Conference Transcript:
JEFF ANDREWS: “First and foremost, thank you for gathering here this morning. I just want to say that on behalf of Mr. Hendrick; he wants to make sure that everyone knows that our concern at this time is the health and wellbeing – first and foremost – of Chase Elliott. I know there are a lot of questions about the injury, the timing and where we’re going with all of that. We will do our best to answer a lot of that for you. We don’t obviously have a lot of details with this being a little bit less than 24 hours old for us now.
Chase did go through a successful surgery last night that lasted about three hours. He’s doing well. The surgery was to repair a fractured tibia and that’s really the extent that we know. There is no timeline. At this point in time, we would expect this obviously to be several weeks. But beyond that, I don’t have a timeline to offer for you. We will obviously work with Chase and his doctors in the future to help determine that.
But again, I just can’t reiterate enough that for Mr. Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports, the most important thing is Chase’s health and his wellbeing. We will work with him on that timeline. We’re going to race a long time together with Chase Elliott and we’re going to win a lot more races together. It’s certainly a little bit of a setback and obviously Chase is very disappointed, but again, I want to reiterate that the most important thing is Chase’s health. We’ll have his seat ready for him when he’s healthy and ready to get back into a race car.”
Jeff, how did it work out to get Josh (Berry) into the car in place of Chase (Elliott)? Is he a long-term solution or as long as you need him type of solution?
JEFF ANDREWS: “Unfortunately we’ve had some other situations that we need to look at alternate drivers, and of course we look to our partners at JRM first. I do want to give a shoutout to Dale (Earnhardt Jr.), Kelley (Earnhardt Miller), L.W. (Miller) and everybody over there; Mike Bumgarner who was very accommodating yesterday when we reached out to see if Josh (Berry) would be available to drive today.
Really, the decision was made a lot around Josh’s driving style, and then of course the fit in the car. Trying to find someone close to Chase’s size given the timing and what we had to work with here in getting him fitted in the car last night. Those were really the two main decisions around why we wanted to go with Josh.”
Jeff, what are Hendrick Motorsports’ policies as far as what drivers can and can’t do in their free time, and will this force or make you want to reevaluate any of those policies?
JEFF ANDREWS: “It won’t force us to reevaluate any policies. These guys have to go out and live a life outside of the race track, and certainly what Chase (Elliott) was doing was not anything abnormal for him. He’s an experienced snowboarder. He’s been doing it most of his life and it was an accident. A similar injury could happen falling off a mountain bike or stepping off a curb while you’re jogging. It was an accident and Chase feels awful about it. But our stance is just that – it was an accident and our guys have to go out and live their lives. Obviously, both Alex (Bowman) and Kyle (Larson) drive sprint cars. Chase has been in a midget at various times last year. So I don’t anticipate a policy change at Hendrick Motorsports based around this.”
Can you talk about what you think is fair when it comes to the Playoffs and the waiver, and how it might affect your efforts in the next few weeks?
Jeff Andrews: “Yeah, for us, we have gone through the formal process that NASCAR has in place of applying for the waiver. Again, that happened a little over 12 hours ago, so I don’t really know where that goes from there. We’ll certainly let NASCAR go through their do process and we’ll respect their decision when they’re ready to make one on how that decision gets made.”
Alan, what’s your mindset now? How does this change the outlook for the team for the season going forward?
Alan Gustafson: “Yeah, I think our goals are still the same; our objectives are still the same. Certainly, things have changed, but we want to compete and compete at a high level. Right now, my focus is really making the transition as easy for Josh (Berry) as possible; trying to help him get acclimated to the car, feel comfortable and get to a position that he can use his talents and abilities to be successful.
I think moving forward past that, it’s still the same goal – to be as good as we possibly can when Chase (Elliott) gets back and win as many races as possible. We’re certainly still in the owner’s points and depending on how the waivers and all the rest of it goes; certainly if Chase can come back and we can compete at a high level and win, we can be where we want to be with the driver side, too.
There’s certainly a lot of changes that comes with this, but I think we all can learn and grow. Find ways to improve and be ready to go when the Playoffs come around.”
Jeff, can you say, is he still in the hospital in Colorado? Assuming he was treated in Colorado where the accident happened, is he still in the hospital there? Is the plan for him to go back to Georgia or to North Carolina for rehab?
Jeff Andrews: “What we know – I’ll just talk about the facts because a lot of this is obviously Chase’s (Elliott) personal situation and I don’t really want to get into that. But he did go through a successful surgery last night that went very well. We know that recovery is going very well and the expectation is that he would be released sometime this morning.”
Josh, just talk about the opportunity. I know this isn’t the way you wanted to get into an A-list car, but after driving two races for Spire Motorsports last year, this is like a night-and-day situation and gives you an opportunity to showcase your talent.
Josh Berry: “First and foremost, obviously we’re thinking about Chase (Elliott). This is his ride and his opportunity. I’m just thankful that these guys – Mr. Hendrick and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports – thought of me to come fill-in for him in this moment. Without a doubt, it’s going to be a great challenge for me. But a great challenge comes great opportunity for me to learn and grow as a driver, and work around a lot of really great, talented and smart people here at Hendrick Motorsports.
We’re just taking it one lap at a time, one day at a time. We don’t really have any expectations at this point. We’re going to try and get through this practice and qualifying session. I’m going to race my Xfinity car, and then we’ll meet some more, talk about it and make a plan for tomorrow. But it’s definitely a great honor to drive for Hendrick Motorsports, regardless of the situation, so I’m going to try and do the best I can for these guys.”
Josh, what was your initial reaction when you got the word? The fact that you’ve had success here (at Las Vegas Motor Speedway), does that help as far as making the transition?
Josh Berry: “Yeah, a lot happened really fast. It’s just crazy how quick something like that can happen. But yeah the fact that I’ve won here (at Las Vegas Motor Speedway) twice in the Xfinity car definitely makes it a lot easier. I’m going to be learning a new car here in an hour or so. At least having some success at the track I think will definitely give me some confidence; some more confidence in what I’m doing.
It's been a wild couple of days. You never know what can happen when you wake up.”
Alan, can you walk us through all the changes that had to be made and how long it took the team to get everything swapped over?
Alan Gustafson: “Yeah, the interiors are super intricate. Everybody has a different body type, so we went through a lot of the processes. Josh’s (Berry) bucket is the same as Alex’s (Bowman), but different from Chase’s (Elliott). We went through trying to get those to work out and had some issues with that. I could probably sit here for two hours and explain to you all the details that would be really boring for you. It’s not an easy thing to do. Certainly I think we got Josh into a safe situation, which is first and foremost our concern with the interior. Secondly, a fairly comfortable situation. He needs to get on the track and run and see how he feels, and we’ll certainly make some adjustments from there.
But yeah, that transition is always a difficult thing. With Chase, obviously we’ve had years and years and years to refine the interior package; his seat, leg braces, headrest, etc., for him. We had to do the best we could to get it into a suitable position for Josh, which I feel good about.”
Jeff, can you talk a little bit about how Chase (Elliott) is feel? Not physically, but in his head?
Jeff Andrews: “I think we all know Chase (Elliott). He cares an awful lot about his race team and Mr. Hendrick. And I think at the top of his mind, he’s worried and concerned that he let – first and foremost – Mr. Hendrick down and his race team down. Texting with him this morning, he was asking how late his guys had to work and things like that, just on the swap over. That’s just pretty typical Chase Elliott. He’s a great kid; has a huge heart and can only imagine how hard this is (for him). He’s worried about how hard this is on us, and we’re worried about how hard it is on him. So again, first and foremost, let’s get him better and we’ll get him back in his seat as soon as he’s ready and his doctors say so.”
Josh, do you have any experience driving a Next Gen car at all?
Josh Berry: “Yeah, I will in about an hour (laughs).
Obviously, like I said, these guys – we’ve already worked some. We know it’s going to be a challenge, but kind of to reiterate like I said before; I’ve been here and won here, so that will help the growing pains a little bit. Obviously the car is a lot different, but these guys have some great tools to look at and things to prepare for. I’m going to just try to not overthink it, and like I said, just take it one lap at a time. Just try to run all the laps and be there at the end of the race tomorrow.”
Josh, going back to what you said about this opportunity – how do you balance the focus of racing for wins and a championship in the Xfinity Series and trying to do the job here and show yourself well?
Josh Berry: “Yeah, I mean I think you just have to look at it as – like I said, it’s going to be a great challenge, but that comes with a lot of opportunity in there, as well. We’ve talked – I don’t think we have a lot of expectations for how this is going to go. Obviously my focus is winning a Xfinity Series Championship this year, but to get this opportunity to get some experience in a Cup car is great for me. Obviously I want to be in the Cup Series one day, so you never know what could happen. We’re just trying to be realistic. As for this, I’ll be available for these guys whenever they need me and hopefully I can do a good job for them.”
Josh, have you texted or talked with Chase (Elliott) at all; and if so, can you tell us anything about those conversations?
Josh Berry: “Yeah, he shot me a text and just thanked me for helping out, and I thanked him for thinking of me and considering me for this fill-in position. Like I said, Chase (Elliott) has been a good friend to me over years. Even dating back to when I would make a couple of Xfinity Series starts years ago at JR Motorsports; he was always one of the first ones to help me whenever I needed it.
Like I said, I’m thankful for these guys for giving me this opportunity. I obviously wish him well and going forward, I’ll do whatever these guys need me for and we’ll take it from there.”
Long-time RIS staffer, beginning in the mid-80s. Charlotte, NC area local contact.