Denny Hamlin ditches his crutch and hopes to lose his knee brace before opening race of Chase

Denny Hamlin has ditched the crutch he used after tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament. He heads into the first round of NASCAR's playoffs walking on his own.

Hamlin hurt his knee last week playing basketball. He's started physical therapy and hopes he no longer needs to wear a knee brace when the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship begins Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.

The injury didn't seem to bother Hamlin last week at Richmond, where he led 39 laps and finished sixth.

There's zero margin for error now that the Chase is here and the 16-driver field will be whittled down to 12 in three weeks. Hamlin says his injury will not prevent him from trying to advance to the championship finale for a second consecutive year.