Auto racing: Hamlin not sure how far knee will go in Cup race
AP Sports Writer
AVONDALE, Ariz. — Denny Hamlin cringed climbing in and out of the car with his surgically repaired left knee. He had a noticeable limp walking around the garage area.
While Hamlin still definitely plans to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup race Saturday, he's not sure if he will be able to finish 375 laps on the oddly shaped mile-long Phoenix International Raceway track only 10 days after surgery.
"I don't know how far I will go," Hamlin said. "It definitely aches quite a bit and the problem is range of motion. I can't get my knee bent far enough to put it on top of the (brake) pedal."
Hamlin drove about 70 laps during two practice sessions Friday and then qualified 26th in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing car. Casey Mears will be standing by if needed for the race, and drove a few practice laps Friday.
Hamlin injured his knee playing basketball in January. He had hoped to put off surgery until after the season, but it became evident he couldn't wait that long when he continued to experience problems with his knee.
There wasn't much time between surgery March 31 and his return to the track.
"We have some things we're going to do to make the pain better, it's going to make the range of motion better for tomorrow, that we haven't done for today," Hamlin said. "Until we get to tomorrow, we really don't know where we stand."
Doctors plan to remove the stitches from Hamlin's surgery Saturday morning and drain fluid from his knee. Hamlin had several ice treatments Friday, and even had an ice bag on his knee sitting in the cockpit while his crew worked on the car at one point during the second practice session.
"It's frustrating because your mind wants your leg to do one thing, but your body won't do it. It won't do what I want it to do. It's delayed reaction every time," he said. "I'll just do whatever I can, and that's all I can do. There's nothing I can look back and say that I should've rehabbed more. I've done everything that I was supposed to do and then some, and if it's not enough time, it's not enough time."
Before the first practice session, the team made adjustments to the brake pedal to ease the stress on Hamlin. But such alterations are limited, especially because the car also has to be set up to be drivable for Mears in case a switch is necessary.
"I think that Denny will know his limitations and I'm not concerned about it in the least," fellow driver Jeff Burton said. "Driving injured is just a part of the sport. ... He'll find a way to make it happen. And if he can't, then he'll get out."
The surgery was scheduled during the Easter weekend break, then had to be pushed back two days after the race at Martinsville, which Hamlin won, was postponed by rain and run March 29. He started doing rehabilitation the day after his postponed surgery.
"If it turns out that we needed those extra two days, then that was tough luck," Hamlin said. "We can't help the rain that happened in Martinsville."