Hamlin confident torn ACL won't hurt championship chances

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — With a driving layup with 5 seconds remaining in his weekly basketball league, Denny Hamlin tied the game to force overtime.

That extra session proved costly for the NASCAR star.

Hamlin tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Tuesday night and arrived at Richmond International Raceway on crutches. He's determined to wait until the offseason for surgery and said Friday he plans to drive the final 11 races with the injury.

NASCAR's 10-race playoffs begin next week.

"I think that we were pretty confident that doing the surgery or not doing the surgery, either way I would be the same inside the car," Hamlin said Friday. "It's really just to improve life outside the car. There just isn't a benefit to do it right now, especially since you don't know how you're going to react recovery-wise."

Hamlin, who uses his left foot on the brake, participated in two long practice sessions Friday fairly pain-free inside the car. He's struggling to walk without crutches, and anticipates he'll be that way for another few days.

He's got experience with this injury: He tore the ACL in his left knee in 2010, but had in-season surgery that year during an off week.

"I have been here before, I know what the recovery process is, I know what to expect," he said, adding he felt more discomfort in 2010. "I'm only three days out and it doesn't seem quite as bad, so I think it's probably because it's on the right leg versus the left. The left obviously takes a little bit more of a beating in the car."

Hamlin has had a rash of injuries the last few years, beginning with the torn ACL in 2010.

He broke his back in crash in 2013 and missed a little over a month of racing, then struggled all season to recover while driving. He missed one race last year when he wasn't cleared to drive because something was in his eye, and he didn't get back in his car after a rain delay at Bristol this season because his neck tightened during the delay.

Hamlin is perplexed at his string of bad luck, but noted that only the back injury — suffered when he crashed racing Joey Logano for a win — affected his racing. He spoke with unwavering confidence Friday that he'll be a force in the Chase and won't have any difficulty advancing into the final round of the playoffs.

"No doubt there's nothing or no injury that's going to keep me from what I want to do at the end of the year," he said.

He also said there are no clauses in his contract with Joe Gibbs Racing prohibiting what he can do outside of the race car, and it's full intention to return to playing basketball once he's healed. He was back on the court seven months after tearing his left ACL.

"It's what I do to relieve stress and I have fun doing it and it's the only way I'll go for a run," Hamlin said. "There's no way I could put on running shoes and go out for a five-mile run but put a ball in my hand and I'll go for days or until I break something."

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