Fluke injury just a small obstacle in Hamlin’s plans

by Monte Dutton

Fluke injury just a small obstacle in Hamlin’s plans

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Unfortunate circumstances have, at least for the time being, sidetracked Denny Hamlin in his bid for an elusive Sprint Cup championship.

They haven’t, however, slowed him down at Martinsville Speedway, where Hamlin won his second straight race.

Until shortly before the start of the season, the most likely candidate to challenge Jimmie Johnson seemed to be Hamlin, the 29-year-old by Monte Dutton from Chesterfield, Va., who collected half his eight career wins last year and finished fifth in the point standings.

“Every year you expect yourself to be better than you were the previous year,” said Hamlin.

Unfortunately, a fluke injury muddied Hamlin’s championship hopes.

Before the season even started, Hamlin suffered a knee injury while playing pickup basketball. The original plan was to put off surgery until after the season ended.

Last week Joe Gibbs Racing announced that Hamlin would undergo surgery immediately. Scheduled for March 29, it had to wait until the following day when Martinsville’s Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 was rained out.

“We were going to wait until the end of the season,” said Hamlin, “but just decided that it wasn’t a good idea. We were doing some further damage to the knee, and, to me, it’s not something that’s worth suffering forever or having a permanent limp or anything like that. It just didn’t make much sense.”

Did the injury contribute to Hamlin’s slow start? Undoubtedly. The rigors of short-track racing at Bristol caused additional soreness, and another week on a short track at Martinsville played a role in the decision to have surgery right away. The timing was also right because of the open date between races at Martinsville and Phoenix.

In the short run, the injury threw a monkey wrench into what seemed likely to be the season Hamlin went from being a star to being a superstar.

“I feel like, talent-wise, I’m as good as anyone on the race track,” he said. “Ultimately, it takes a lot of pieces of a puzzle to make a championship run. The driver’s skill levels are probably 15 to 20 percent of it.

There’s only so much I can help but I think my team is better prepared this year.”

Now, if a surgeon named Dr. Patrick Connor can only make Hamlin’s knee better prepared …

Monte Dutton has covered motorsports for The Gaston (NC) Gazette since 1993. He was named writer of the year by the National Motorsports Press Association in 2008. His blog NASCAR This Week ( features all of his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road. E-mail Monte at ‘ 2010 King Features Syndicate

Denny Hamlin has been the favorite to give the NASCAR Cup champ Jimmie Johnson a run for his money in the 2010 season. However, a fluke knee injury has given the Gibbs racing driver some trouble. Hamlin had surgery soon after winning the Martinsville race. (photo by John Clark/NASCAR This Week)