Despite being off his feet for longer than after his first surgery to repair a torn ACL, Denny Hamlin insists his recovery will be a “non-issue” when he arrives in Daytona for Speedweeks next month.
Hamlin tore his ACL in early September while playing basketball, but did not miss any races in the 2015 season due to the injury.
The driver of Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 11 Toyota also tore the ACL in his left knee back in 2010, again while playing a pickup game of basketball.
Hamlin waited to have corrective surgery until the end of November once the season was over and has been working extensively on his rehabilitation ever since.
“This one is extensively worse than the first," said Hamlin at NASCAR's West Coast media tour. "The best explanation that I get is that the first one I used the cadaver and I needed to get back in the race car right away, so we did a cadaver and we didn't use any parts of my hamstring or any other parts of my leg simply for recovery purposes.
“It would recover faster, and we didn't think we'd have any injuries to that same leg going forward.
“But this is kind of a new latest way that they're doing these surgeries. Obviously, when players are out in football or basketball, they're out for one year for an ACL, where we don't have that time to recover as racecar drivers.
“Since this has happened in the off-season, they chose to do it this way, which is a little bit longer recovery process, but it should be stronger in the long run.”
Nevertheless, Hamlin said he has noticed marked improvement just over the past week. At the recent Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C., he described his recovery then as about “50 percent.”
“It's been quite a bit better. The biggest thing is the range of motion has not been very good, and it's kind of behind. But we're catching up to being on schedule here, and just in the last seven days, I think it's amazing how far we've gotten in rehab to getting this thing better,” he said.
“I'm very confident that in two weeks it's going to be a non-issue on track, and really for me it's more like 'When can I start running again?'
“That's the biggest hurdle mentally that we fight – not being able to do some of these activities that we use to kind of take racing off of our mind. Once the racing season starts, any given Saturday I'm kind of looking for a golf course after practice is over to relax a little bit, and right now I'm not able to do any of that.”
Hamlin, 35, finished the 2015 season ninth in the Sprint Cup Series standings and had two wins, 14 top-five and 20 top-10 finishes in 36 races. It was his most wins since the 2012 season (five).