AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Denny Hamlin raced 376 miles only 10 days after having surgery to repair the torn ACL in his left knee, even skipping a chance to get out of the cockpit during an extended pit stop for repair work on the car.
Despite his obvious frustration with the extended stop that put him two laps down Saturday night at Phoenix International Raceway, Hamlin never mentioned anything over the radio about his knee or the possibility of getting out of the car.
The hobbled Hamlin started 26th and went on to finish 30th, two laps behind winner Ryan Newman.
"We had a lot more issues than my leg today. We had a subpar car and we just killed ourselves trying to change," Hamlin said. "Just fought all day and it was just a miserable experience."
When asked if he was in pain, Hamlin responded, "More than I can tell you."
Hamlin said he didn't hurt his knee any more but was "absolutely exhausted" after driving 376 laps on the oddly shaped mile-long track where braking is often at a premium. The problems in the car had nothing to do with his injury.
When there was a caution for debris on lap 135, Hamlin pitted so his crew could repair damage behind the front right tire and attempt to solve an ongoing electrical problem by changing the batteries.
Hamlin stayed in the car, not giving way to relief driver Casey Mears who was standing by if needed. Even without making the driver switch, the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota dropped two laps when there was trouble changing the batteries and the car stalled when he pulled away.
While clearly upset on the radio about what happened, because he had moved up to 13th place before pitting, Hamlin never said anything about his swollen knee.
"To be honest with you, I would have been too embarrassed to give Casey (Mears) the car I had today," Hamlin said. "It's not what we're accustomed to."
Hamlin was still having electrical issues after the battery change. The right-side damage came after he got hit only 15 laps into the race.
After Kurt Busch apparently got loose and made contact with Kasey Kahne ahead of him on lap 15, Hamlin drove to the bottom of the track. But the nose of Busch's car hit the side of Hamlin's car.
Hamlin injured his knee playing basketball in January. He had hoped to put off surgery until after the season, but instead had surgery March 31, two days after his victory at Martinsville in the last NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
Hamlin had an ice bag draped over his left knee in the garage before getting into the car. He said he never considered getting out of car after falling two laps behind.
"The only thing I was going to gain was maybe some respect of the team guys just because I knew our day was shot," Hamlin said. "I wasn't going to give up on them. I wasn't going to lay down on them."