Denny Hamlin planned to have surgery after the NASCAR season ended for a pre-existing right shoulder issue, but learned the damage was much worse than expected.
“Three years ago, I did (surgery for) a left shoulder bone spur, and this was supposed to be just a bone spur as well,” Hamlin said Thursday in Nashville for the awards banquet. “But I knew that I messed it up pretty bad (Las) Vegas week, and then since I ran the rest of the season after Vegas, it just continued to do more damage, and now it’s certainly going to be a little longer than what was anticipated.”
It is not a racing injury. Hamlin, whose right arm is in a sling, said it’s genetic, where the bone grows a little too long. Being a race car driver has further agitated the issue, though.
“And whatever happened during Vegas week, I popped some tendons that week and then the following week, had another incident,” Hamlin said. “Trying to race on it was just not good.”
There was no avoiding surgery. Hamlin couldn’t raise his right arm the week of Las Vegas and admitted there were times in the final weeks of the season when he was handicapped behind the wheel.
“There were many times where they asked me to flip on a switch (and) I can’t reach it, I can’t touch it,” Hamlin said. “We were certainly up against the odds. One thing is, I didn’t want to use it as any kind of excuse for not making the final four or anything like that, and I think our performance was as good as it possibly could have been on track. I did everything I could to succeed; we just didn’t get it done for whatever reason. Certainly, I didn’t want that to be in the excuse of why we didn’t perform well.”
Hamlin is right-handed and during the playoffs, he had to switch to relying more on his left hand. He also clarified that the additional damage done happened away from the racetrack.
“I had to get this fixed,” Hamlin said. “I just knew that it was going to be worse, but it’s obviously depressing when you wake up from your anesthesia and know that you’ve got three months of a limp arm that you can’t do anything with.”
Not only was it bad news for Hamlin, but it’s not an ideal timeline to be going through rehabilitation. There are less than 90 days to the season-opening Daytona 500 on February 18 and even less until cars unload in Los Angeles for the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum that takes the green flag February 4.
“I think we have to see where I’m at during that time,” Hamlin said of whether he’ll be able to compete. “Right now, they touch it a little bit here and there, and they say physical therapy’s done for the day. So, I’m a long, long way from where I need to be. Again, I thought I was going to have a three, four-week recovery like I did before, and I came out knowing I had a ton of damage that needed to be fixed.
“It will change my offseason a little bit, going from trying to work on some tracks that I’ve been so-so at in the simulator or something that probably is not going to happen now. So, it just changes some things and certainly, probably the first laps on track will be whatever we do in February. I just don’t know whether we need to analyze the Clash; maybe when the time comes because, from what I’ve heard, they don’t want me loading it for three months, and obviously that timeline does not line up [with] what I need.”