Denny Hamlin, the driver many considered to be Jimmie Johnson’s main threat for this year’s Sprint Cup Series championship, tore his anterior cruciate ligament  in his left knee while playing basketball in January.
At the time of his injury, he decided to wait until after the season to have surgery to repair the ligament because he knew that repairing it when it happened would have meant missing some races due to recovery.
Now, Hamlin has decided to have the surgery. The surgery will be performed by Dr. Patrick Connor of OrthoCarolina on Monday, March 29th.
JD Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing, said:
When we first reviewed the situation we thought Denny couldn’t do any further damage to his knee if he waited to have surgery, but as the season progressed we determined that the best plan of action was to go ahead and have it repaired. Hopefully this will take care of the situation and he should get stronger each week.
Hamlin said that, at the time of the injury, it wouldn’t affect his driving because the injury was to his clutch leg. But apparently postponing the surgery has been causing more damage.
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.
My best guess is that Denny Hamlin’s best finish of 17th had something to do with the decision. Many expected Hamlin to light it up this year, giving Jimmie Johnson, and everyone else, a run for their money for the championship. Instead, he sits 19th in points with no top 10s this year. He’s finished 17th, 29th, 19th, 21st, and 19th.
At this point last year, Hamlin had two top 10s and one top 5. He was eighth in points. Since then, now much has changed on the team. Same crew chief, same cars. So, a logical explanation for the big difference in results would be his knee. Now, I haven’t heard anything from Hamlin himself, or any other JGR official, to indicate that he was in pain before the quote above.
But, logic and common sense would tell you that something is amiss with the No. 11 FedEx Toyota team. And, it would make sense if Hamlin isn’t able to shift smoothly, or is in a lot of pain in the race car. So, why not try the surgery now, while the team is still in the top 35 in points and there is plenty of time left in the season?
I think it’s a good decision to do the surgery now, instead of waiting. Because the results are nowhere near where anyone thought they would be, it’s smarter to have the surgery now, when there’s time to recover and he’s not too far out of the chase or in danger of falling out of the top 35 in points.
Doctors expect Hamlin to return to the car at the next race, which is at Phoenix International Raceway on April 10th. But, if he cannot complete the race, Casey Mears will be on standby as a relief driver. Mears has attempted the first six races for Keyed-Up Motorsports, missing five of those.