NASCAR star Chase Elliott out indefinitely after surgery on broken leg

AP photo by Chris O'Meara / NASCAR driver Chase Elliott watches as his crew works on his car during Daytona 500 practice on Feb. 17.

LAS VEGAS — NASCAR driver Chase Elliott is out indefinitely after undergoing a successful three-hour surgery to repair a fractured tibia, Hendrick Motorsports general manager Jeff Andrews said Saturday.

Andrews said there was no timeline on the return of Elliott, the 2020 Cup Series champion who has been voted most popular driver by fans the past five years. The 27-year-old from Dawsonville, Georgia, injured the shin bone in his left leg Friday while snowboarding in Colorado. Josh Berry will drive the Hendrick No. 9 Chevrolet in place of Elliott in Sunday's Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"We're going to race a long time together with Chase Elliott, and we're going to win a lot more races together," Andrews said. "Certainly there's a little bit of a setback, and obviously Chase is very disappointed. The most important thing is Chase's health, and we'll have a suit ready for him when he's healthy and ready to get back in a race car."

Andrews said the process has begun to attain a waiver from NASCAR for Elliott to be eligible for this year's playoffs, which cover the final 10 races on the schedule and begin in September. Waivers have been granted to other drivers for various circumstances, and 2012 Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski said he wouldn't have a problem if Elliott received a waiver.

"Life happens," said Keselowski, who is in his second season a driver/co-owner for RFK Racing. "The schedule is just so demanding. It's inevitable that it's going to happen to somebody sometimes.

Until 2021, team owner Rick Hendrick had a policy of not letting drivers compete in other series or in potentially high-risk activities away from the track. Andrews said Hendrick Motorsports will not change its policy now, explaining "that these guys have to go out and live a life."

In the meantime, Berry will try to collect points for the team. The 32-year-old Tennessee native's first race will be at a track where he has won twice on the second-tier Xfinity Series, including last October, and finished in the top 10 in all four starts.

"I'm going to be learning a new car here in an hour or so, so at least having some success on the track, I think that definitely gives me more confidence in what I'm doing," Berry said Saturday ahead of practice and qualifying. "It's been a wild couple of days. You never know what will happen when you wake up."

Berry will start 32nd in the 36-car lineup Sunday.

Elliott, who finished fourth in the Cup Series' final standings the past two seasons, won five races last year. His results so far this season have been mixed, with a collision ending his day early and leading to a 38th-place showing in the season-opening Daytona 500 before taking second to Richard Childress Racing's Kyle Busch last weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

Busch, a two-time Cup Series champ in his first season at RCR after a decade and a half with Joe Gibbs Racing, said he spoke with Elliott and shared his own experiences of returning from a broken right leg and left foot after crashing in the 2015 Xfinity Series opener at Daytona International Speedway. He missed 10 races but then won his first Cup Series title that November.

"Even as good of a support system as I had around me during my injury, there was a time when we were watching the races on Sunday and you kind of break down and miss being out there and being in your car and having a chance of going out there to compete," the 37-year-old Busch said. "That's what we live for and build on our whole lives, to have success.

"Chase is plenty young and I'm sure plenty healthy enough that it's not going to be anything too crazy to go through."

JGR driver Denny Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner, missed four races in 2013 because of a compound fracture in his back that occurred during a crash. He recalled having to "watch the car go around with Mark Martin and Brian Vickers (driving), and it was like, 'Wow, this is different seeing someone in it.'

"But I do think there are positives in it. I think you become rejuvenated. I think you become more appreciative of the opportunity that you have."