Hamlin finishes race 10 days after knee surgery

Denny Hamlin raced 376 miles only 10 days after having surgery

to repair the torn ACL in his left knee, even skipping a chance to

get out of the cockpit during an extended pit stop for repair work

on the car.

Despite his obvious frustration with the extended stop that put

him two laps down Saturday night at Phoenix International Raceway,

Hamlin never mentioned anything over the radio about his knee or

the possibility of getting out of the car.

The hobbled Hamlin started 26th and went on to finish 30th, two

laps behind winner Ryan Newman.

“We had a lot more issues than my leg today. We had a subpar

car and we just killed ourselves trying to change,” Hamlin said.

“Just fought all day and it was just a miserable experience.”

When asked if he was in pain, Hamlin responded, “More than I

can tell you.”

Hamlin said he didn’t hurt his knee any more but was

“absolutely exhausted” after driving 376 laps on the oddly shaped

mile-long track where braking is often at a premium. The problems

in the car had nothing to do with his injury.

When there was a caution for debris on lap 135, Hamlin pitted so

his crew could repair damage behind the front right tire and

attempt to solve an ongoing electrical problem by changing the

batteries.

Hamlin stayed in the car, not giving way to relief driver Casey

Mears who was standing by if needed. Even without making the driver

switch, the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota dropped two laps when

there was trouble changing the batteries and the car stalled when

he pulled away.

While clearly upset on the radio about what happened, because he

had moved up to 13th place before pitting, Hamlin never said

anything about his swollen knee.

“To be honest with you, I would have been too embarrassed to

give Casey (Mears) the car I had today,” Hamlin said. “It’s not

what we’re accustomed to.”

Hamlin was still having electrical issues after the battery

change. The right-side damage came after he got hit only 15 laps

into the race.

After Kurt Busch apparently got loose and made contact with

Kasey Kahne ahead of him on lap 15, Hamlin drove to the bottom of

the track. But the nose of Busch’s car hit the side of Hamlin’s

car.

Hamlin injured his knee playing basketball in January. He had

hoped to put off surgery until after the season, but instead had

surgery March 31, two days after his victory at Martinsville in the

last NASCAR Sprint Cup race.

Hamlin had an ice bag draped over his left knee in the garage

before getting into the car. He said he never considered getting

out of car after falling two laps behind.

“The only thing I was going to gain was maybe some respect of

the team guys just because I knew our day was shot,” Hamlin said.

“I wasn’t going to give up on them. I wasn’t going to lay down on

them.”