NASCAR fans reach new low after Chase Elliott injury

Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images) /

While Chase Elliott’s injury has brought fans together, it has also brought out the worst in NASCAR’s fanbase. But it’s not the first time.

I make it a point to rarely criticize NASCAR‘s fanbase with any sort of negative generalizations. Beyond the blatantly obvious fact that one size never fits all and it’s usually the very small minority who are the loudest and most obnoxious of the group, they are the driving force behind the sport being as successful and popular as it is.

They are the reason why the drivers and teams get to do what they love, and they are the main reason why I get to do what I do.

But sometimes things just need to be said.

Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott was seriously injured last Friday in a snowboarding accident in Colorado, just before the NASCAR race weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Nothing was initially revealed about the injury, other than the fact that it was a leg injury, but it was reported that he was going to be having surgery on the same night and that he would miss Sunday’s race.

On Saturday, it was confirmed that he would miss an extended period of time. He underwent a three-hour surgery on Friday night for a fractured left tibia.

Elliott was said to be out for “several weeks”. Earlier this week, Hendrick Motorsports stated that he is expected to miss around six races. There was an implied sense of optimism within Hendrick Motorsports surrounding a potential return, since they had applied for a playoff waiver a few days prior.

But even before Rick Hendrick’s team made that decision, the waiver was more of a focus than Chase Elliott’s well-being among a contingent of NASCAR fans.

Playoff waivers have become almost automatic when full-time drivers unexpectedly miss time. The process of applying for one — and being approved for one by NASCAR — has long come across as somewhat of a formality.

They haven’t made a decision on Elliott’s yet simply because nobody truly knows how much time he will miss, and they want to wait until he is medically cleared to compete.

Yet literally minutes after the Elliott injury new broke, you had fans claiming that it would be favoritism if NASCAR gives Elliott one, because he is a fan favorite.

Given the long, long list of drivers for whom NASCAR has granted playoff waivers over the years, and the variety of reasons for which waivers have been granted, the real abnormality would occur if one weren’t approved for the five-time Most Popular Driver Award winner.

Some use the “not NASCAR-related excuse” as a reason why he shouldn’t be given one, since it was “his own decision” to snowboard and was therefore “his fault”.

After all, when Kyle Busch missed 11 races in his 2015 championship-winning season, it was because he was injured in a NASCAR wreck.

When Kurt Busch missed the final six races of the regular season after crashing at Pocono Raceway, it was he who made the decision to withdraw from the playoffs; he had still been eligible. Those incidents were, by definition, NASCAR-related.

What I’d be interested to know is how Matt Kenseth replacing Kyle Larson after Larson used the n-word, how Jimmie Johnson, Corey LaJoie, Austin Dillon, and Chris Buescher being impacted by COVID-19, and how Tony Stewart being injured in an ATV accident are NASCAR-related.

There are also, interestingly, zero Most Popular Driver Awards among this group. There goes the “fan favorite” argument.

Was it Johnson’s “decision” to test positive for COVID-19? Let’s open up that can of worms, why don’t we? Was he double vaccinated and boosted 16 times? Was he social distancing? Was he wearing a mask? Was he double-masked? Was he meeting a friend in-person instead of on Zoom?

The whole “NASCAR-related” argument doesn’t really hold much of an argument when you consider the fact that “medical waiver” is the terminology used in any health-related instances. I’m not sure where the confusion comes into play; this is clearly one of those instances.

Things happen. Such is life. You can make the case that teams should forbid drivers from doing certain activities during the season in their contracts. But if it happens in January, now you have fans criticizing him for doing it “too close to the Daytona 500”.

It’s a lose-lose situation. Even then, you just never know what can happen. Drivers have lives to live outside of NASCAR, and they should be allowed to live them. Team owners feel the same way.

But the worst part about it is that you have a guy, a human being, in the hospital with a broken leg, underdoing a three-hour surgery, and the primary concern among a contingent of fans while everything is unfolding is making sure NASCAR forbids him from competing in the playoffs.

Is that really priority number one — or priority number anything?

The one situation that stands out to me most, until now, is one that didn’t actually happen. I’ll never forget last May, when Kyle and Samantha Busch’s surrogate was expecting the couple’s second child, putting Kyle’s status for an early season race in jeopardy.

He didn’t end up missing the race, but some of the comments when there were questions about his status were downright despicable. Once again, fans’ primary concern was keeping Busch out of the playoffs. He had already qualified by winning a race in April.

Him missing the race would have been a “personal decision”, they claimed, with some even going as far as questioning the concept of surrogacy. After all, why should he be allowed to witness the birth of his daughter during a NASCAR race?

It’s almost like drivers aren’t humans. They’re merely there for our entertainment, pleasure, and desire to spout off nonsense on social media.

As two-time Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen has said multiple times, a lot of people on social media, generally speaking, are just angry and/or dissatisfied with their lives to begin with. As harsh and as cruel as it sounds, it’s 100% accurate. Otherwise, they wouldn’t feel the need to say some of the things they say.

So naturally, they will jump at the chance to bring everyone else down with them, which is exactly what we see in literally any discussion on the famous bird app. It’s all about generating attention and stirring the pot.

Fortunately, NASCAR doesn’t take in consideration these ridiculous comments. Thank goodness for that.

As far as a waiver is concerned, there is no guarantee that a driver who misses a race or races will get into the playoffs anyway, even with one. In fact, most of the drivers we discussed above didn’t.

All a waiver really does is ensure that missing time doesn’t automatically make you ineligible for the playoffs. You still have to qualify, either by winning a regular season race (and being high enough in points, if there are more than 16 winners), or by finishing high enough in points.

Pulling off either one with fewer opportunities than everybody else is inherently more challenging. Drivers don’t score points when they miss races, and they score no playoff points. By no means is missing time an advantage — especially while medically incapable of competing.

As far as the competition side goes, what’s also ironic is the fact that the same crowd clamoring for “season-long championship” and “no playoffs” think that a driver should be eliminated two weeks into the season.

It doesn’t make much sense and is a typical case of changing stances simply because of who is involved, with no regard for the issue itself. To them, a broken leg is nothing more of a talking point than a bad block, a spinout, a botched restart, or a penalty. Well-being of a fellow human being? Negligible.

Of course, it’s not the entire fanbase who thinks this way. It’s usually a very small minority who are the loudest and most obnoxious when it comes to something serious such as this, and that is once again the case.

The overwhelming majority of fans have rallied behind Elliott and are focused primarily on him making a swift and complete recovery and thus getting back behind the wheel of the No. 9 Chevrolet at some point in the very near future.

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As for the others, you would hope that, at some point, the focus flips to something far more important than personal preference on the race track and in the championship battle. As hard as it may be for some to believe, there is more on the line than social media clout.