There’s a saying in sports, in life for that matter, that really helps a person get motivated. That saying: “no pain, no gain.” However, for Denny Hamlin, that’s the exact opposite thing that he needs to hear right about now.
Hamlin is still attempting to recover from his vicious wreck at the Auto Club Speedway a few months ago which sidelined him for four races. Those four races put he and his Joe Gibbs Racing team behind in the points standings. They’re attempting to make up for it, but Hamlin isn’t fully healthy and is truly risking his future.
After he returned to NASCAR racing at Talladega, he was 31st in the points standings. In the seven races since then, he’s only climbed up to the 25th position and is 104 points outside of the top-20 in the standings without a lone win. This is uncharted territory for Hamlin who’s made the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup in all seven full-time seasons which he’s driven in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Hamlin has had some hard hits since his return. At first, it looked like he was going to win races and do the unthinkable by making it into NASCAR’s version of the playoffs. However, after finishing 23rd or worse in four of the past five races, Hamlin’s hopes have fully diminished and there isn’t much he’s racing for besides a paycheck and to gain momentum plus information leading into next season.
Joe Gibbs Racing has to be concerned though. After Hamlin blew two tires during Sunday’s race at the Kentucky Speedway, he ended up getting mildly injured during the second of those hits. Hamlin’s knee banged against the steering wheel when he slammed into the wall on the exit of turn four which caused him to be immediately sent to the infield care center even though he was able to drive his car back to the garage area. Usually, drivers only go to the infield care center for precautionary measures if they can’t drive their car back to their pit stall or the garage.
Hamlin was clearly in pain and many speculated that it was his back that was re-aggravated, but it was the same knee which he had surgery on a few years ago after he hurt it while playing in a basketball game. Once he was released from the infield care center, Hamlin stated that he plans on continuing to race for the remainder of the season, starting with a test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Monday and Tuesday. At the test, there was an on-call doctor to evaluate Hamlin. The doctor cleared him for the test as well as this weekend’s race at Daytona.
With all of these close calls, one has to wonder if it’s safe for Hamlin to get back into a race car. That was his second really hard hit since he got back into the car and another one could be more violent. Since he has plenty of time until the end of the season, maybe Hamlin should opt to go for surgery instead of waiting for the off-season as originally planned.
Think about it. Should Hamlin have to risk his health when he isn’t contending for a championship? He’s just about blew his shot at making the Chase for the Sprint Cup unless he can win three of the next nine races, but how realistic is that? It could also give Joe Gibbs Racing a chance to evaluate their equipment, trying some different things with different drivers just to get a few more opinions on what the team can do to be even more successful than they already are.
Hamlin felt that he had a car to contend for the win on Sunday which is a good sign. Yet, when he puts his health at risk, it’s simply not worth it. Sure it’s good for the record books, but Joe Gibbs Racing may think about sidelining Hamlin whether he likes it or not. It would be wiser for the team to let him get fully healed before next season and have him contend for a title once again.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.