Following yet another finish outside the top 20 and dismal hopes of making the Chase, it really is in Denny Hamlin’s best interest to sit the rest of the year out, get healed up, and come back stronger than before in 2014.
It’s not what Hamlin, his team, sponsors, or fans want to hear, but the decision really shouldn’t be all that difficult. At this point, even he knows that they just simply aren’t going to make the Chase, which was his only reason for staying in the car in the first place. Though the No. 11 team has not yet been mathematically eliminated from eligibility in terms of the wild card spot in the postseason, the team would essentially have to run the rest of the regular season flawlessly, win several races, and oh, by the way, several of the drivers surrounding him in points would have to have some crippling bad luck for him to even have a chance of making this happen.
Is it possible? Sure. Will it happen? Absolutely not. Hamlin and his team have done well together this year, but not nearly to the level that they should be in order to make the Chase.
For this reason, Hamlin should get the surgery. As much as this team wants to win some more races and at least salvage a good season, the risk vs. reward here doesn’t have much balance. If Hamlin waits until the end of the season, gets surgery the day after Homestead (or a few weeks after), he’s left crunching for time before the series heads to Daytona for preseason testing.
If he gets out of the car within the next month or so, he has several months to rehabilitate and come back that much stronger next season with no remaining issues.
The alternative is slightly more dismal. Though Hamlin has received medical clearance to continue competing this weekend and onward, let’s not forget that what happened in Fontana could easily happen again, perhaps even on a grander scale. The series is racing in Daytona International Speedway this week, one of the best races on the schedule but also one of the most treacherous tracks the series races on. The “big one” is not a metaphor. Daytona is known for having some huge crashes with big impacts and hard hits. Though injuries are the exception rather than the norm in today’s NASCAR, it hardly seems worth the risk that Hamlin gets caught up in a big wreck and either re-injures his back or further adds to the damage that is already there.
Is the minute chance of making the Chase really worth the risk in adding more rehabilitation time, possibly sitting him out of the car more than he would if he wisely stepped out even now? Common sense says “no”, but racecar drivers are known for their competitive spirit and their stubbornness. Common sense is only then secondary.
Don’t get me wrong. I feel for Hamlin. Those four races he sat out had to have been the most difficult of his racing career, and he doesn’t want to experience it again, I’m sure. But if the choice is between sitting out the rest of the season or sitting out for the rest of his career, it seems the choice has already been made for him.
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