The grimacing look on Denny Hamlin’s face told the whole story when he gingerly climbed out of his No. 11 FedEx-sponsored Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota after winning the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 on Monday at Martinsville Speedway.
If it was hard to see just how much pain Hamlin was in, than take a look back at Tiger Woods after his 2008 U.S. Open victory where he was also feeling the same pain, which was also on the same knee as Hamlin.
Hamlin, like Woods, had torn the ACL in his left knee, with the exception that Woods had his operated on four months prior before re-injuring it, thinking that four months would be enough time to recover from the surgery.
Sports injuries, whether they occur at home or on the field, are usually always serious, especially more when a doctor’s scalpel is involved.
Athletes are known to cover up the pain from an injury, and Hamlin was no different before he finally realized just how serious his was. It was most likely because the threshold of pain probably became unbearable.
Unlike the NBA, NFL, NHL, or MLB, where the athletes shoot-up huge amounts of painkillers before a game, NASCAR does not allow its drivers to take any type of pain medication because of the dangers of the sport.
Originally, it was reported that Hamlin would wait until after the season was over to have the surgery, but with an injury of this magnitude, Hamlin knew that waiting was not an option any more.
In Hamlin’s case, ACLs that are completely torn are not repaired, they are reconstructed—a new ligament must be created.
The damaged ACL is completely removed as there is rarely potential for healing of the torn ligament.
Even though the surgery is done as an out-patient procedure, the recovery period can take anywhere from six to 12 months depending on how much conditioning Hamlin did before the surgery.
Another factor that will play into his recovery is the severity of the tear, along with how much cartilage he damaged during the time he initially tore the ligament.
Hamlin, who had surgery on Wednesday, will more than likely spend a few weeks walking on crutches, even though his doctor started him on motion exercises right after the surgery, which is normal after this type of procedure.
J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing, did say that Hamlin would be in Phoenix to start the race, along with Casey Mears as a backup driver in case he couldn’t finish because of complications.
Gibbs also said that, "The doctors tell us it will improve with each passing week and that he cannot damage it by driving.”
Woods is a good example of the repercussions from not properly allowing the knee to heal, and the end result was another surgery to repair the already damaged knee, along with having to sit out another seven months to properly rehabilitate his injury.
What JGR and Hamlin need to factor into their decision, if they decide to get back behind the wheel within the next few weeks, is that Hamlin will not be able to take any pain medication.
Is he willing to risk another surgery, which could possibly take him out of racing for possibly another season?
So far this year he has one win, one top-five, and one top-10 finish while sitting 15th in the point standings, with his season mediocre at best.
Hamlin has not been 100 percent since the beginning of the season and his stats show something was wrong, with the best-case scenario being that the knee has been bothering him for some time now.
With Texas, Talladega, Richmond, Darlington, Dover, and Charlotte up next on the schedule after Phoenix, now would be the best time for Hamlin to consider his options and take into consideration the long-term risk that’s involved.
Optimism is always a good tool for the teams to rely on, but in this case, how hard will it be for Hamlin to focus on his driving since it takes both a physical, as well as mental toughness, to compete at this level?
There are still a few questions that need to be answered by both the driver and the organization, and the ultimate decision needs to be made with both parties' best interest in the forefront.
Hamlin, as we already know, is a fierce competitor on the track, but now we will find out just how fierce he is off the track.
Will he allow his pride to get in the way of making the right decision?