CAN YOU GIVE US ANY DETAILS ON THE SURGERY THAT YOU HAD, LIKE DO YOU HAVE A ROD IN YOUR LEG OR ANYTHING? ALSO, CAN YOU TAKE US THROUGH THE REHAB AND IF THERE ARE ANY MORE SURGERIES THAT YOU NEED?
“First off, sorry I’m late – we were doing another interview that ran long.
But nonetheless, yeah obviously had surgery on my tibia in a couple of different places. I have a few screws in the top of my tibia there. It’s really more I guess knee-located than it is lower leg. So yeah, I guess that kind of answers that.
Rehab has been I guess pretty standard for that type of injury. It’s not an uncommon injury by any means. It certainly could have been a lot worse. Fortunately, there wasn’t an ACL tear, meniscus or any of that, so that was all very positive and like I said, could have been a lot worse. Unless I injury it or hurt it again, no there shouldn’t be any lingering surgeries to have to remove any of that stuff or any of that.”
HOW COMFORTABLE DO YOU EXPECT TO BE IN THE RACE CAR THIS WEEKEND, AND HAS THE TEAM DONE ANYTHING TO MAYBE HELP WITH THAT?
“I don’t anticipate it being any different really from a comfort standpoint. Really the way that you sit in the car and kind of the way I like to sit – I guess as it revolves around my leg and my knee – all of that stuff is really stable and kind of tightly packed in there between the seat, the leg board, the knee knocker. All of those things really already have your left leg pretty tight anyways, so if I was going to change anything, I would really want that. And that was something the doctors and I talked about too kind of coming back in. I think that’s a really positive thing that was already the case, so I feel like things were already like I would want them if they weren’t.
So yeah, nothing really special from the interior standpoint that we worked on this week. I felt good about just where I had it previously.”
HAVING GONE THROUGH THIS PROCESS, DOES IT MAKE YOU REEVALUATE HOW YOU APPROACH EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES DURING THE RACING SEASON?
“Yeah, I mean I think it is for me. I feel like you have to enjoy your life and go and do things that are – I don’t want to say a distraction, but like a nice escape from this every week. There is a lot that goes into the racing thing and I think you have to have that way to escape and let your mind rest a little bit.
Look, the accident could have happened tripping down stairs, on a jog or anything. Snowboarding is something that I’ve been doing for a long time. I’m comfortable doing it. 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, honestly. It’s one of those things that I’ve used as a training tool over the years, as well. No different from riding bikes or any of the above. I 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 and I always have. This was no different. It was just the perfect storm and an unfortunate accident.”
HOW HARD WAS IT TO BE OUT OF THE CAR MENTALLY, ESPECIALLY INITIALLY, AND IS IT TOO SOON? HOW DID YOU DECIDE WHEN TO COME BACK?
“Listen, to the fans that have called into your show or reached out in any form – I haven’t seen all of them, but I certainly appreciated it. And it was very evident from the get-go that any true fans just care about you and your wellbeing, and are looking forward to having you back whenever that is. I think that’s been one of the best parts about this all process. From the fans, to our partners, to Rick (Hendrick), to everyone at HMS, to my teammates there, to my peers and other competitors at the racetrack – everyone has just been nothing but supportive and are behind me 100% in everything that has gone on and just want me to get back to feeling good before I come back to the racetrack. There hasn’t been a rush on it. Everyone has been just very supportive and very positive about the whole situation. So for that, I’m very grateful.
I think you have to step back and look at the situation. I think everybody needs to recognize that I wouldn’t go this weekend if I didn’t feel like I could do it. Ultimately that’s my decision. The doctors and I have been in conversations the whole time really, and we just feel like I’m to a point now where the integrity of the bone is to a point where I’m not going to hurt it in that manner. It’s about building that strength back and getting to a point where you’re comfortable with your range of motion and things of that nature to get in there and do a good job, and I feel like this is the right week to do it. I feel good and the doctors got to a point where they were comfortable with it, and they left it up to me to decide when I was ready. We had a good couple of days in the sim and that led to building some confidence in wanting to go ahead and move forward and go to Martinsville.”
THE DAYS IN THE SIM, DID YOU EXPERIENCE ANY KIND OF DISCOMFORT AND DOES THAT GIVE YOU ENOUGH PROPER FEEDBACK ON YOUR LEG TO FEEL GOOD BECAUSE MARTINSVILLE WILL BE DEMANDING.
“Yeah, for sure. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t going to be tough. I mean it’s going to be tough. I was non-weight bearing for a number of weeks. When you’re not using a muscle on your body, you lose a large percentage of your muscle mass in just the first couple of weeks, so all of those things are very normal. So yeah, it’s going to be tough, for sure. But I feel like I’m to a point where I’m comfortable to go do it; I think I can go do it. We’ll have Josh (Berry) up there. He’s going to be hanging out and around in case I get to a point where I get uncomfortable or I have pain, all of those things that I didn’t experience yesterday. I felt really good driving. Just all of the normal things post-surgery I feel like I have going on and nothing beyond that. So that’s why we made the decision and like I said, Josh is going to be up there to help us out if I get to a point where I don’t feel confident or don’t feel comfortable in running, then he can jump in and help. But as of now, I feel good about it.”
THIS NEXT STRETCH OF RACES, YOU’VE WON AT EACH OF THE FOUR NEXT TRACKS. WAS THERE ANY EXTRA MOTIVATION TO GET BACK FOR THIS STRETCH, OR DID YOU HAVE A RACE CIRCLED THAT WAS YOUR GOAL TO BE BACK BY?
“No, I honestly didn’t even know that. That’s a good question and a good thought, but that didn’t go into my decision. When all of this happened and just in talking to the doctor and things post-surgery, I knew it was going to be about this time. I knew it was going to be around Martinsville or Talladega, which frankly I don’t think would have been my first two choices if I could have picked them based on the braking pressure at Martinsville and obviously your risk of high-impact at Talladega. But yeah, things progressed really well. All of the decisions were based off direction directly from the surgeon, doctors and everyone that has been involved this whole time.
The way I look at it is those people know a lot more about bones, injuries, surgeries and the rehabilitation aspect of it than I do – even now or ever will. So at their direction, if they were comfortable and as long as those guys are comfortable, then I’m comfortable. When you’re working with great doctors and people that have taken such good care of you over the last six weeks, it helps me have a lot of confidence in the decisions that they make and the decisions that they then put in my hands to make on my end, too. All of those things being said, I just feel confident in the group of people I’ve been working with and they all led to going here and now, so here we go.”
YOU SAID THE BREAK WAS CLOSER TO YOUR KNEE AREA. DR. BILL WITH ORTHO CAROLINA IN CHARLOTTE, KNEES ARE HIS SPECIALITY AND HE’S THE HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS’ DOCTOR. WAS HE IN COMMUNICATION WITH THEM OR WHY DID YOU ELECT TO REMAIN IN COLORADO FOR REHAB BEFORE RETURNING IN MARCH?
“No, I didn’t have any dialogue with him. Obviously I work with the Ortho Carolina guys through HMS and they’ve been open to helping as much or as little as I need. Fortunately, I was in a place where the Steadman Clinic out there in Colorado is a very well-known orthopedic surgery center. I had been aware of some other athletes in different disciplines having surgeries there, even traveling there to get the surgery done. So a combination of that and a combination of some local folks in the area that I personally know and just building that confidence in knowing that was the right place. And I think some of it too is just kind of a feeling – like to me, it was the right place. Obviously you don’t want to ever have that happen, but to have it happen and have access to a facility like that, I’m very grateful for that. So it just felt like the right place for me and at the time, I thought that was going to be not only as good of a location to get the surgery done, but I thought the rehab center and how closely they work with the clinic, I thought that was going to be my quickest road back and the best road back for my long-term health, too. All of those decisions were made by me, with my health in mind, and what I felt like was going to be the best thing for me now and down the road. Part of it was professional; part of it was just that personal feeling of what you think is right.”
YOU REFERENCED TALLADEGA AND THE INCREASED RISK OF IMPACT THAT. THERE HAS BEEN A COUPLE OF TIMES IN THE PAST WHERE DRIVERS RETURNING FROM INJURY AT TALLADEGA HAVE TAKEN A CAUTIOUS APPROACH; MAYBE STARTED THE RACE AND HANDED IT OFF TO A RESERVE DRIVER. I KNOW THAT YOU MENTIONED THAT JOSH (BERRY) IS GOING TO BE ON STANDBY THIS WEEKEND.. IS THERE ANY CONTINGENCY PLAN FOR POTENTIALLY TAKING A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO TALLADEGA DEPENDING ON HOW THIS WEEKEND GOES?
“I think a lot of it depends on this weekend. I anticipate things to be fine and to continue forward next weekend. But look, this whole process has been week-to-week for quite some time. I think we’re at a position where we can do whatever we think is best for my health and for the team’s success and we’re going to make that decision. I don’t know what that is right now or today, but we’re going to focus on Martinsville right now. We have a tough race ahead; a tough weekend up there getting me back in the saddle and getting back in the swing of things. My focus is there right now. We’ll assess how I feel Sunday night and how I feel Monday. Look, if I’m feeling good after the race this weekend, then I anticipate that I’m going to go next week back to normal. If there’s something other than that, then we’ll re-assess and go from there.”
HOW LONG DO YOU ANTICIPATE IT WILL TAKE TO GET BACK INTO “RACE SHAPE” THAT YOU WERE IN BEFORE THE INJURY, AND DO YOU THINK MISSING OUT ON THE FIRST HANDFUL OF RACES WITH THE NEW SHORT-TRACK AERODYNAMIC PACKAGE IS GOING TO PUT YOU AT A SIGNIFICANT DEFICIT THIS WEEKEND?
“Yeah, for sure. I’ve tried to stay working out as much as I can. Obviously my legs were a big part of my routine and the things that I like to do to get my heart rate up and to work on those things. But yeah, there are other ways you can do it. The physical therapists that I’ve been working with have really helped guide me in a direction to try and stay on top of that stuff. I’m certainly not doing the things that I would normally do, but I think I’m in a position where I’m comfortable to go and I think I’ll be fine from that standpoint. We’ll just have to work through it. I don’t know what the timeline will be to go on runs or go on a bike ride – I don’t know what that’s going to look like just yet. I would imagine that I’m still a little ways off from those types of activities, but yeah, we’ll just assess it as it comes.”
WE SAW YOU IN THE BOOTH VIRTUALLY AT COTA. HOW DID YOU EXPERIENCE THE OTHER FIVE RACES AND HOW TOUGH WAS IT TO SEE JOSH (BERRY) AND JORDAN (TAYLOR) IN YOUR CAR?
“Yeah, I appreciate FOX having me. They were first class in how that was. There was probably too many of us in the booth that day, but it was nice to be there and nice of them to want to include me. That was cool I thought.
I just watched the rest of them on T.V. like everyone else. That was really about it. I certainly had my little station where I had a lot of the things that go on behind the scenes and conversations amongst our team. But just from a broadcast standpoint, I watched it on FOX or FS1 like the normal broadcast would be.”
YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU WERE NOT ABLE TO DO THE NORMAL ACTIVITIES OF RUNNING, BIKING, THINGS OF THAT NATURE. WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO DO TO MAINTAIN THAT SHAPE?
“Yeah, I mean I think a lot of it so far in my process has been focused on upper body. My arms are fine and my core is fine, things like that. But from a PT standpoint, it’s been just trying to get that range of motion back in your knee. That’s a very common thing with that injury; getting your quad to fire, getting your patella to move and get that stuff back going. I’ve never had a surgery, so it’s been pretty eye-opening at just how some of that stuff works and how your body reacts to being cut on. It was not super fun.
Just going at their guidance, honestly. I’ve had a great group. Man, I’ve gotten to know some of these guys and can certainly call a couple of them friends now. It’s obviously not been fun, but looking back on it, those relationships that you gain over the years will be something that you respect and appreciate down the road.”
RIGHT AFTER YOUR INJURY AND YOU’RE GOING TO THE HOSPTIAL – ARE YOU THINKING CAN I WALK AGAIN? ARE YOU THINKING CAN I RACE AGAIN? ARE YOU THINKING HOW AM I GOING TO TELL MY TEAM AND MR. H? TAKE ME THROUGH WHAT YOUR EMOTIONS AND THOUGHTS WERE RIGHT AFTER THE INJURY?
“I think you know me, I don’t get super up or super down, for the most part. But kind of called it like I saw it. I knew when I got hurt that it was not good and I knew that pretty quickly. So I knew that those conversations were inevitably going to happen in the next couple of hours. I didn’t want to have those conversations for sure, but it was just something that had to be done. I was just super honest and straight-up with everyone. I told Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) exactly what was going on. I told Rick (Hendrick) exactly what was going on. I said – hey, this is what happened and this is what I’m dealing with. I talked to both of them while I was in the ER and I said – hey, I don’t have all of the answers yet, but I don’t think this is good and I think you need to be looking at getting somebody to fill-in this weekend because I really don’t think I’m going to be able to get to Vegas by in the morning and I don’t know that I’m going to be able to drive, but I’ll let you know as soon as I get X-rays back and get information, I’ll share and I did. It was very transparent. I tried to not be dramatic about it, I just told them like it was. I knew my knee was messed up. I can’t say I ever had the thought of not walking again.. I didn’t think it was that severe. I think it could have been a lot worse, but I certainly knew it wasn’t right and it was probably going to take a surgery. And to what extent it was, obviously I didn’t know at that point in time and was just hoping for the best. Whatever it was going to be, it was going to be. It was done at that point, right? I was more just thinking about tackling what it was and doing what the doctors told me to do to get back to 100% as soon as I could.”
FROM THE TIME THE INJURY TOOK PLACE, DAYS OR WEEKS, DID YOU KNOW HOW LONG OF A PAUSE YOU HAD WITHOUT GETTING BEHIND THE WHEEL OF CAR, AND WAS THAT THE LONGEST YOU HAD EVER BEEN WITHOUT GETTING BEHIND THE WHEEL?
“Well, it was right there at the beginning of March, so you’re over a month since then. But our off-season is longer than a month. I didn’t race anything over the winter this year, so I went from Phoenix to Daytona without being in a car. We didn’t get any off-season tests this year, just with the way the OEM hands out tests and the way that cycled through our group at HMS. I didn’t have any tests or anything, so I went from Phoenix last November to Daytona 500, and that was longer than this. So I guess no – I’ve been out of the car longer than that, but it does kind of feel like an off-season a little bit. Not quite that long, but it has a similar feeling to me, just because Daytona isn’t a real downforce racetrack, so I really only ran Fontana. I had one weekend at it and then a six-week break, so it’s kind of like restarting the year for us. Obviously we’re in a position where we have to win, so yeah, just a fresh start.”
WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH NOW TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS? OBVIOUSLY GETTING IN ON POINTS IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN, SO YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO WIN. DOES THAT MAKE YOU MORE AGGRESSIVE? HOW DOES THAT CHANGE FOR YOU?
“Yeah, I haven’t even looked at the points. I have no idea how far back we are, but I just assumed that wasn’t even possible.
Yeah, I think for us, we’re in a position where we’re going to have to win. That’s at least how I’m looking at it and how I’ve been thinking about ever since this happened. I figured you miss a few weeks and you’re pretty much going to have to win. So yeah, that’s how I’m looking at it. I don’t think I really change my approach. Does that change how we call races from a strategic-standpoint? Yeah, it probably does. But does it change how I drive or how I want the car setup for the weekend? No, we’re always out there trying to win events. But I certainly think it can change your play, as far as a particular race day. You see guys shorten stages to try and get the win, or whatever going for points. Obviously we don’t need to go for points, so anytime you have those decisions to make, the decision is going to be very easy. You play the long game and try to win the event.”
WAS IT MENTALLY TOUGH TO BE OUT OF YOUR CAR? A LOT OF PEOPLE WERE ASKING ABOUT JOSH BERRY, WILL HE OR SHOULD HE GET A CHANCE? WHAT DID YOU MAKE OF WHAT JOSH BERRY DID? DID YOU HAVE THAT POINT IN THE BEGINNING WHERE IT KIND OF MADE YOU CRAZY OR IT BOTHERED YOU SO MUCH TO BE OUT OF YOUR CAR?
“I don’t know that it ever made me crazy, but it was certainly odd, I’m not going to lie, to watch your car go around the track and have your name on it. And watch your guys and everybody there, and you’re the only piece missing of what was normal. So there was certainly an aspect that was definitely strange. That became more normal – I guess you kind of got over that a little bit as time went on. But yeah, I think it’s just something that seeing that for the first time was a bit weird, but I definitely got used to that over the course of the last six weeks.
I think Josh (Berry) has done a really good job. I thought Jordan (Taylor) did a great job. Those are really tough things to jump in there and have to fill in like that, and do it on short notice. Like all of the above, that’s difficult and probably more difficult than people give them credit for. I’m not sure what Josh’s future plans are or what he has in the works behind the scenes, but I would assume that he wants to go Cup racing one day if the right opportunity presents itself. He’s done a great job with the opportunities that he’s had at JRM and I thought he did a great job with the opportunity he had to drive with our group. I asked him how one of the races went and he said – man, those guys are so good. I said I’ve been trying to tell everybody that for eight years how good they are, and I don’t do anything special and I just have a really good team. I said I’ve been trying to tell everybody that for a long time and nobody listens. So I’m glad to see somebody else gets to witness that first-hand. It’s been a pleasure working with him, and I hope if he has something in the works or if he as aspirations down the road to go Cup racing, I hope those solid runs that he’s had helps propel him and gets him the opportunity he deserves.”
COMPETITION-WISE, DO YOU EXPECT TO COME BACK AND NOT MISS A BEAT AFTER OBVIOUSLY GETTING OUT OF A RHYTHM THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS, OR ARE YOU GOING TO GIVE YOURSELF A LITTLE BIT OF A GRACE PERIOD TO KIND OF GET BACK UP TO SPEED?
“Yeah, I don’t really have the answer to that, honestly. But I think it’s going to be tough. What challenges are going to be presented this weekend, I don’t 100% know until I get there and kind of get going through it. But anytime you miss a period and your competitors are sharpening their skills and you’re not – I do think you’ve missed out, for sure. The good news is – as Josh (Berry) alluded to – our team is really talented and we have a great group. I think if we have our ducks in a row and we’re prepared, I think we can go and jump in and have a really solid run. That’s obviously my goal. We’ll just have to get up there and see what the challenges are and what they bring. Whatever it is, we’re going to work through it and continue to fight; make the most of not only this weekend, but the weeks to come. We’re going to have 17 races or so to get a win, so we’ve got plenty of time. Just have to get after it, execute at a high level and I think we’re very capable of doing that.”
I KNOW SOME OTHER DRIVERS IN THE NASCAR CUP SERIES HAVE HAD INJURIES BEFORE. DID YOU REACH OUT TO ANYBODY WHEN YOU WERE INJURED TO KIND OF SEE WHAT THEIR PROCESS WAS LIKE TO GET BACK INTO THE CAR?
“Yeah, I talked to Kyle Busch a good bit through that. We’ve texted back-and-forth some and just kind of quizzed him. His injury was much different than mine and way worse too, I think. I think it was a good bit worse. They were just different, but I do think his was worse in the break and things. But yeah, just kind of quizzing him. We worked with different doctors right, so just kind of quizzing him on what his guys were telling him and comparing that with what I’m being told. Just gathering information for myself, personally, just to understand kind of what he went through – that rehab process, how he felt when he was getting back in the car, what things he was looking for, what was comfortable and what wasn’t, if anything. Just kind of talk through as much of it that I can to just gather information. Like I said, very different injury, but always good to get a second opinion on a somewhat similar situation.”