I read the reports Thursday morning of Brad Keselowski’s wreck at Road Atlanta, wincing at the images of his elephantine ankle displayed on Twitter. We discussed the ramifications if he wouldn’t be able to race at Pocono, and you have to admit, that ankle didn’t look good at all. And then I wondered… would the Injury Fairy come to visit the pilot of the Blue Deuce?
What exactly is the Injury Fairy? Well, something has to account for surprising success – as in visiting victory lane – when any other sane person would spend the weekend on the couch eliciting as much pity from friends and family as possible. Call it serendipity, good luck or maybe even a bit of fairy dust. But over and over I see the same thing happen to drivers when they suffer a traumatic injury, they seem to do deceptively well almost immediately after leaving the emergency room. Magic could explain this.
Yes, we have Keselowski’s unlikely win at Pocono on Sunday as an example, but one instance does not indicate a pattern.
Well then, how about Denny Hamlin and his tortured knee in 2010. He goes in for surgery, and two races later took the checkers at Texas Motor Speedway. You know he wasn’t exactly driving pain free. A little bit of flexibility in your knee is needed in the cockpit of a car, even if you aren’t using that foot for braking and accelerating. G-forces require every muscle in your body to make adjustments in the tight corners and high banks of a track.
Maybe it’s a physical reaction? Pain is known to do many things to the human brain. Perhaps its presence enables the driver to focus on the task at hand, knowing they have to ignore the torture throbbing in the injured extremity.
Need more instances? Anybody remember Carl Edwards hopping around on a pair of crutches after a disastrous Frisbee accident? (Watch out for flying saucers! They can be deadly.) It only took less than two weeks for Cousin Carl to be required to opt for a sedate bow on the frontstretch, instead of his usual backflip, after winning the Nationwide Richmond race on Sept. 11, 2009.
Then we can also return to Pocono, another year, and another driver. Maybe the question regarding the health of Jeff Gordon’s back lingered for several years after he piled his No. 24 into the turn 1 wall of the roval, but his immediate post-injury performance did not indicate anything had gone wrong for the four-time champ.
He rang the bell at Sonoma just two weeks later, hiccupped at Daytona then decided only first would do again at Chicago, followed up by a solid third place performance when the Cup boys returned to the scene of the crime. Injured? Hobbling for years to come? Injections? Bah… Maybe he needed to keep the pain in order to keep winning.
Then we might want to turn on the way back machine and consider a different Cup champion. Terry Labonte spent the final two races of the 1996 season with his hand in a splint, only able to steer with three fingers. Nonetheless, it didn’t seem to slow his No. 5 Chevy down, logging third and fifth-place finishes, respectively.
You can be sure there are many other examples of NASCAR drivers fighting a bad back, broken bone or lingering effects of too many fumes the weeks before. It’s part of what makes them our heroes.
Keselowski piled into that concrete wall after sending the tire barrier into the air, and moved the entire impediment a good three to five feet. It shouldn’t surprise anybody that he suffered a fractured ankle, only that he wasn’t hurt any worse. But it still stuns us when we see these athletes choose to suck up the pain and climb in the car.
Keselowski demonstrated on Sunday that he does have what it takes to stand up next to the best in the business, declaring to the world that riding around on a bum ankle is nothing next to the thrill to be found in winning a Sprint Cup Race.
Whether we had a little bit of fairy dust to thank, or simply the kind of focus only found in injured professional athletes, it was terribly fun to watch the proverbial underdog overcome the obstacles that were tossed in his path.
I hope Keselowski’s ankle heals quickly, but then again, maybe he’ll want to hang onto the pain for just one more week. Visits to victory lane don’t happen every week for a driver, after all.
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