Brett Poirier · Monday July 8, 2013
In half of a season, Denny Hamlin went from potential championship contender to crash test dummy.
How did the guy with the broken back get that job?
Hamlin was sidelined for five races after crashing head on into an inside wall (without a SAFER Barrier) on the last lap at Fontana. When he returned to the car at Talladega, we all questioned whether or not it was too soon. Was it worth the risk of further potential serious injury?
In the last six races, Hamlin has headed nose-first into the wall two more times and has smacked the wall with his right front twice. These haven’t been little spins or brushes with the barrier, either. These have been jarring, knock-your-teeth-back-into-your-throat-type hits.
At Dover, he blew a tire in the middle of the corner and crushed the outside of the wall. He followed that up with his one decent run in his nightmare summer, an eighth-place showing at Pocono. At Michigan, he was just slow and drove to a 30th-place finish, which is completely uncharacteristic for someone with the talent of Hamlin. At Sonoma, he crashed into a tire barrier in practice and was sent nose-first into the outside wall of Turn 4 by Tony Stewart. At Kentucky, he admitted to getting his “bell rung” after blowing a tire and clobbering the outside wall once again.
At Daytona, Hamlin added a nose-first crash into the outside wall and a complimentary T-Bone hit from a 190-mph AJ Allmendinger.
His finishes in those races: 34th, 8th, 30th, 23rd, 35th and 36th, respectively.
I don’t know about you, but after the last one, I had to catch my breath. After most crashes, I clamor to see the replay to know the cause, and of course, assess the blame. But after Hamlin’s crash at Daytona, I was only concerned for his safety. It didn’t matter how it started, I just wanted to see him walk from the car.
Hamlin did walk away on his own power, which was a relief. He declined to be interviewed afterward, and to my knowledge, hasn’t given any updates on his health since. After the Fontana crash, Hamlin said the fractured vertebra was painful, but that the incident had aggravated bulging discs in his back, which was actually causing him more pain. He hinted at the possibility of surgery if he was knocked out of Chase contention.
Well, Denny you’re out, and while the folks at NASCAR appreciate all of the research testing the durability of the Gen-6 car that you’ve been doing, and since your mild criticism of the car earlier this season, I think they have all the data they need.
Hamlin making the Chase was a long shot when he returned at Talladega, and it looks nearly impossible now. Hamlin has gone on winning streaks before, and when healthy is capable of winning races nearly anywhere. But he’s not healthy and he’s been a shell of himself since the Fontana accident. Hamlin making the Chase on driver points isn’t going to happen, but there still is a small possibility he gets the No. 11 team in. The No. 11 team is 23rd in owner’s points — 33 points out of 20th and 63 out of 10th. Hamlin would have to win two of the next eight races, though. Considering he has crashed hard in four of the last six, I do not like his odds.
This isn’t me telling Hamlin to stop racing, because that’s his decision. He does need to re-examine the big picture here, though. If his back isn’t right, and he knows he will eventually need surgery, why not step out of the car now and be ready for 2014? I’m sure Hamlin’s sponsors — primarily FedEx — want Hamlin in the seat all the time, but when he’s not racing for wins, he’s putting his health in jeopardy and he’s crumbling your pretty paint schemes every week, it might be a little easier to let him step out. Plus, you know Mark Martin is dying to race that car again.
If Hamlin is going to wave the white flag, he might want to wait one more week. He dominated both New Hampshire races last year and won the fall race. It seemed like he was on a different playing field than everyone else last year. With the way his year is going, it’s difficult to imagine that happening again this time around.
If Hamlin does stay in the car for the final 18 races, I’m just hoping he keeps the car in one piece and finishes, whether it be first or 31st. I’m tired of watching him crash head-on into walls, and I’m sure he’s tired of it, too.
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