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Hamlin knee surgery set for Wednesday

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) — Denny Hamlin originally planned to have surgery to repair the torn ACL in his left knee on Monday, but instead did some slicing and dicing on the track.

The doctors will get their chance on Wednesday.

"I was actually going to try to do it after the race, but now we have Victory Lane celebrations, so I can't do it," Hamlin said. "It's a good thing for us."

Hamlin, who injured his knee playing basketball in January, originally intended to wait until after the season to have the surgery, but said the knee had become bothersome.

He said rehabilitation will begin two days after the surgery, and it is his hope that he will be ready to get back in the car for the next race at Phoenix on April 10.

NASCAR's premier series is taking its traditional week off for Easter.

The team also plans to have Casey Mears on hand at Phoenix and for a few races after that as a relief driver, and Hamlin said he could also practice and qualify the car if needed.

"Trust me, when I come back, I'm going to come back strong," he said.

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MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer were just behind the wild finish of Monday's race, and in all the beating and banging, Edwards wound up pushing Bowyer.

After the race, he made certain Bowyer knew it wasn't his doing.

"I just wanted him to know that I was the meat in the sandwich there," Edwards said. It's good, though, and he was cool with it. We had a good laugh about the whole thing."

Edwards was far more than an innocent bystander earlier this season at Atlanta, when he had an early confrontation with Brad Keselowski, and later deliberately wrecked Keselowski, sending his rival's car airborne. NASCAR parked Edwards for the remainder of that race.

He also was placed on probation for three races, a stint that ends after Phoenix.

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OLD TIMERS' DAY: Former NASCAR stars Buddy Baker, Harry Gant and Ned Jarrett returned to Martinsville Speedway this weekend as guests of track president Clay Campbell.

Gant, a three-time winner on NASCAR's oldest, shortest circuit, said he hadn't been to the track since 1994 and was surprised by all the changes in and around the 0.526-mile oval.

"The track has changed so much I couldn't hardly find my way in the gate to figure out where I was going," Gant said Sunday in the media center, which he surmised was probably three times larger than any media center in the sport during his long racing career.

With rain falling and drivers wearing knit caps and winter coats for driver introductions, the old timers were asked to recall their coldest days in racing.

"Just after Daytona when we used to go to Rockingham," Baker said of the track in Rockingham, N.C., which stopped hosting races in NASCAR's premier series in 2004.

"I can remember going back home after the first day of practice and I woke up and it was snowing, and I said, 'Well, there's no need in hurrying back to Rockingham,'" Baker said.

His leisurely day was interrupted when his team called to say the race was still on.

"Lucky I had my uniform with me," he said, adding that he drove to the track, parked his car and hopped in his race car just in time to hear, "Gentleman, start your engines."

"That's how close I was to missing it," he said.

Baker's one win at Martinsville came in 1979.

"I can remember just one little grandstand over here and down the back straightaway, and if you were beating Richard Petty, the people would stick their hands through the fence and let you know what they thought of you as you went by," he said. "I do remember that."

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PIT STOPS: Pole-sitter Kevin Harvick became the first one to lead the first lap since Mark Martin did it in the season-opening Daytona 500. ... The Toyotas of Max Papis, Michael McDowell and Dave Blaney were all off the track before the first caution flag on lap 43.