COMMENTARY | A lost season.
That's what you can call 2013 for Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin. He's got all sorts of back issues and has no shot at making the Chase due to the fact he missed several races this year due to a fractured vertebra he suffered in March.
He is in tremendous pain, and the fact is he has little to gain at this point by continuing to race each weekend. Surgery is needed to fix bulging discs in his back, and now is the best time for him to do it, considering the circumstances.
But being a racecar driver, a type known to be a stubborn bunch, there is basically no way that is going to happen.
Long career ahead; not worth the risk
As an outsider looking in, here's my bit of advice to Hamlin: Step back and look at the big picture. Hamlin is a relatively young driver (33) with at least a decade of racing ahead of him. His stats are impressive (22 wins since he started in Cup in 2005) and should only continue to grow as his career progresses.
"Should" is the key word in that last sentence, though, as taking care of nagging injuries like the one Hamlin is nursing now is key for his future, if he wants to remain at the level of success he has enjoyed up until now.
Hamlin was a few points shy of being Sprint Cup champion a few years ago, only to lose it to Jimmie Johnson at Homestead. If he ever wants to get back in that position again and reach the pinnacle of his sport, healing up his body should be the first thing on his mind right now.
I could understand Hamlin's desire to tough it out until the end of this season if he was in the hunt for the title. But there is no way he is going to make a miracle comeback and get in the Chase. He is over 100 points out of 20th and with his injuries, I don't see him winning any races and becoming a Wild Card contender, even if he could get to 20th.
So if Hamlin was thinking big picture, he would realize this and step aside. It's what's best for him and the team, considering it wants him to be healthy for the long haul and contend for titles. Hamlin is worried about fulfilling his commitments to the team and sponsors but given the circumstances, I'm sure the team would understand if he decided to get his recovery going right now and be ready to go full force at Daytona in February 2014.
All about pride
Let's not forget the worst-case scenario here: What if Hamlin gets in another wreck before the season ends and makes his injuries even worse, putting his health and future career in more jeopardy in the process?
He has to know this concern is out there, and rightfully so. And his finishes lately are so lackluster (his last top-10 came a couple months ago at Pocono), I'm not sure why he even wants to be out there racing right now.
At this point, I would say Hamlin's dedication to continue racing in 2013 is more about pride than anything. I don't think Joe Gibbs, FedEx, or any of his fans would be upset if he decided to call it a year at any point now.
But Hamlin probably won't -- because he's a racecar driver and that's what he does for a living, pain or no pain.
Hamlin is the one who has to endure the pain each day, so it's his call whether he continues to race.
But the longer the year goes on, the more unnecessary it is for Hamlin to be out on the track each Sunday just turning laps. For the betterment of his health and his overall career, the common-sense thing to do would be to call it a year.
Matt Myftiu lives in Michigan, has been a walking encyclopedia of NASCAR since immersing himself in the sport over 15 years ago, and has worked as a journalist for two decades. His blog on the sport, NASCAR: Beyond the Track, has been published by The Oakland Press for the past 5 years. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu.
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- Denny Hamlin
- Joe Gibbs Racing