Hamlin pulls custodial duties and sweeps Darlington this weekend.
Denny Hamlin and Jeff Burton battle for the lead in the closing laps of the SHOWTIME Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway via nascar-assets.americaneagle.com.
Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
Hamlin is turning out to be the real deal so far this year. Oddly enough he hasn't turned it up until after his knee surgery. You might find that surprising, but I don't.
For whatever reason I find that drivers and their teams seem to step it up at times of adversity and Hamlin's team has responded quite well since what should have been his season ending injury.
Hamlin could have taken part of the season off after he had an operation for his torn ACL and not too many people would have said to much about it. Sure you would have had those people who would have tried to call him out for being a wuss and not being a team player, but let's face it many an athlete has ruined their career by playing injured and Hamlin still has many years left in racing if he stays healthy so why risk it, right?
I mean if he were in his 40's and was having a good year with the potential to win a Championship I could see him coming back right after surgery because he wouldn't have that much time left in his career to take another shot at it. You need to look no further than Stirling Marlin for an example of this scenario.
In 2002 Marlin was having a career best season leading the points for 25 consecutive weeks and was in the running for the Championship when a wreck at Kansas broke his neck causing him to miss the last 7 races of the season. Marlin finished 18th in points and that 2002 season was essentially his last good season as a driver in the Cup circuit and officially announced his retirement from Cup racing this past March.
So why risk further injury to his leg so soon after surgery by coming back?
Eye of the Tiger.
Call it what you want, but he wants to win a Championship.
Honestly I was surprised that he came back so soon. I thought he would have taken about 6 weeks off, or at least started the races and then let a substitute driver take over during the first caution period of each race until his leg had healed for a bit but that's not what he did.
Hamlin instead came back right after his operation and never missed a lap. Not one. Sure there was a substitute driver waiting in the wings but he never got any closer to getting in that #11 Fed Ex car than putting on a firesuit 'just in case' Hamlin needed to get out of the car.
And since then Hamlin and his team have been on a tear. Hamlin has won 3 Cup races since March 29th including the one from this past weekend at Darlington. That would be the last race the day before his surgery and two more since he went under the knife. Oh and let's throw that Nationwide victory from last Friday night at Darlington in there too. Yep he swept both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races at Darlington this past weekend.
So why the sudden performance improvement for Hamlin and his JGR team?
Special fuel additive; in the form of commitment to the team on Denny's part. And the team has responded in kind.
Famed football coaching legend Vince Lombardi once said, "Individual commitment to a group effort - that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work".
By Denny's simple action of not getting out of that car before or after his surgery he made that individual commitment to his team and now they have become stronger and tougher, both on and off the track as a result.
That 110% each team member put in before Denny's injury is now 125% and unless something really stupid happens I'd be watching them as potential Championhsip contenders from here on out and if I were Jimmie Johnson I'd be more worried about Hamlin taking away my chance at a 5th straight title than Jeff Gordon.