Aftermath, Martinsville: Denny Hamlin's Last Stand

Denny Hamlin was supposed to spend Monday night unconscious on an operating table, surgeons working on his damaged knee.

Instead, after pulling off the signature win of his career, he spent the evening partying at his Charlotte nightclub with none other than Michael Jordan.

 

Go figure.

It's becoming clear that Hamlin and Jordan share a common trait: If you tell them they can't do something, they might Just Do It.

There was no reason to believe Hamlin could pass eight cars in the final five green-flag laps at Martinsville, but that's exactly what he did. He proved that fresh tires and willpower is more important than track position – even at a place so narrow and unforgiving.

When crew chief Mike Ford called his driver into the pits with precious few laps remaining – a decision that dropped Hamlin from first to ninth – most of the hearty fans who returned to see the rain-delayed race likely had one of two thoughts:

1) NASCAR needs to give that guy a random drug test!

2) What a moron!

You've heard of the book Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee? This was the sequel: Bury My Driver With Wounded Knee.

Hamlin was done, toast. The No. 11 car had just given the race away.

Who knew those watching the race were about to witness Denny's Last Stand (at least before the surgery)?

The green flag waved, and Hamlin made his charge. Ryan Newman was bumped out of the way. Removed from the picture, really. Meanwhile, as another battle flared between leader Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth, Hamlin slipped through the chaos and suddenly, amazingly, improbably, won the race.

"Whose house is this?" Hamlin yelled gleefully on the team radio.

Leading up to the race, Hamlin had made no secret of his plans to win at the Virginia short track – this despite a disappointing start to the season in which he had no top-10 finishes to date.

The most recent King of Martinsville – Jimmie Johnson – had refused to call his shot before the race. Asked if he'd win at there again, Johnson said, "I can't Babe Ruth it."

That's not Johnson's style.

But Hamlin won't shy away from expressing his opinion on what he's capable of doing – a mix of confidence, swagger and self-motivating smack talk.

In this case, he Babe Ruth'd it.

Perhaps it's a quality gleaned from NBA players, whom he observes from his courtside seats at Charlotte Bobcats games.

Bobcats owner Jordan knows as well as anyone there's a difference between saying you can do something and actually doing it, though, and that's where Hamlin is starting to make his mark.

Can the driver who has always reveled in proving his doubters wrong keep fending off the skeptics?

As of Wednesday, when Hamlin undergoes major knee surgery, there will be more than ever.

Hamlin's torn ACL will be repaired and his knee will require months of rehabilitation – a period during which Hamlin insists he will race.

How? And more specifically, how well?

It seems highly unlikely Hamlin won't see a drop in performance after his knee surgery. That's just common sense.

Hamlin, though, says he'll be able to drive, probably won't get out of the car for a relief driver and will be strong enough by the Chase to topple Johnson for the championship.

All three of those things seem hard to believe.

But if there's one thing we learned from Martinsville, it's that when Hamlin says he'll do something, we may want to listen.

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