Hamlin ready to tear it up

Baltimore Sun

You'll excuse the Greg Oden jokes that followed Denny Hamlin's disclosure that he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee playing basketball over the weekend. Oden, a former No. 1 overall NBA draft pick, has spent most of his career with the Trail Blazers struggling through knee injuries.

Hamlin has had his share as well. But the difference is Hamlin doesn't need healthy, functioning knee ligaments to succeed at his sport.

Hamlin drove half of last season on a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee, which he had surgically repaired last month. He won't have surgery on his ACL tear until after this season ends because surgery would keep him out of races.

The injury and the fact that it won't have a tremendous impact on his racing spurred the age-old debate - Are NASCAR drivers athletes?

Do we really have to keep having this talk? More importantly - who cares?

Regardless of one's opinion on whether real sports can be played on torn ACLs, should Hamlin win a championship driving with one, it will be a remarkable feat nonetheless. Not because of his injury, but because it would mean unseating the unsinkable No. 48 team.

Johnson in for long haul: Last year at this time, Jimmie Johnson gashed his finger trying to poke a hole in his firesuit to cool down.

Johnson was then, and will be again, racing in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona this weekend. He loves that Grand-Am race. Not all the Cup drivers pulled into it do.

"Everybody's there," Johnson said. "It's the only event like it in the world. Well you have the Le Mans, but you don't have the same turnout of top-notch drivers."

Things we learned this week: 1. Whether by design or coincidence, teams are putting on a happy face for this season and telling everybody things will be great. Roush Fenway Racing general manager Geoff Smith even called himself a "Polly-(expletive)-anna." Is attitude everything? We'll see…

2. NASCAR felt the backlash of last year's fall Talladega race and did something. I applaud them for that. Loosening restrictions at restrictor-plate races marks a complete about-face.

3. NASCAR is working to convince sponsors a little personality and brashness don't have to oppose corporate ideals. Everybody wins if that succeeds.

4. Nobody seems concerned that ABC will air only three NASCAR races compared to the 11 the network aired last year. The other 14 races move to ESPN.

5. The Hendrick organization gets its humanitarian reputation for a reason. Rick Hendrick was among the first in NASCAR to offer help to Haiti relief and it's been a total company endeavor.

6. Michael Waltrip Racing has come a long way. Just look at David Reutimann, who used to get so nervous he threw up before races. He's moved past that stage now.

7. "I knew that was blackmail when it was happening," Jeff Gordon said of a photo Hendrick snapped of Gordon kissing a seal.

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