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WTF Wednesday
Denny Hamlin’s Rush To Return To Racing Could Spell Trouble
By: Ellen Richardson

Denny Hamlin has high hopes to make his return to racing at his home track in Richmond this weekend. According to the Associated Press, Denny Hamlin could hop back into the No. 11 FedEx Toyota, for the Toyota Owners 400, Sprint Cup Series race this Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway. This return would follow the compression fracture of a vertebra in Hamlin’s lower spine after a hard hit into the inside wall at Auto Club Speedway only a short month ago.

While this is good news for Joe Gibbs Racing, team sponsors, hometown fans and even Hamlin, who seems antsy on the sidelines, it’s also a distinct possibility that this driver is taking his passion to a dangerous level.

As was reported in Tuesday’s newsletter, Hamlin was expected to meet with doctors to receive x-Rays early this week, which will determine if enough progress has been made in the healing process to return to racing this weekend. While Hamlin has everyone awaiting the news, something he posted on Twitter Tuesday evening that he doesn’t have, I have to admit to praying that doctors think twice before providing him with medical clearance to return to the racing grid.

I realize that the longer he sits on the sidelines this season, the less likely Hamlin is to make the 2013 Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship. In fact, he has dropped from 10th to 26th in the Sprint Cup standings after missing three races. I am also the first one to want to see drivers with talent, like Hamlin, providing us fans with entertaining racing action. All that being said, though, it is important to remember that these drivers are not superhuman and also have lives outside of the track.

As many fans may already be aware, this fracture is not the first back injury that Hamlin has experienced and continues to suffer from. Hamlin recently told USA Today that this injury has aggravated three bulging discs in his back that have bothered him for years and that he is even considering disc replacement surgery in the offseason to correct it.

“I go through horrendous pain. I can’t do the things I used to be able to anymore,” said Hamlin. “I can’t even lean over and pick up (my) baby out of the crib. I can’t lift anything with any kind of angle. It crushes me. Those are the things that bother me.”

If this is the case, why would Hamlin risk further injury by returning to the track so quickly? Prior to writing this column I wanted to obtain some input from someone who specializes in the spine. Dr. Gerren Brittian, board certified chiropractor and owner of Brittian Chiropractic Center, was surprised when I mentioned that this athlete would be returning to a sport that could easily lead to hard hitting accidents after only four weeks of recovery from a compression fracture.

“For a stabilized compression fracture, which is common in accidents of this nature, I would usually recommend at least a three-month recovery time to avoid reinjury or further injury to the spine,” said Brittian.

Although this injury isn’t as common in stock car racing, maybe Hamlin should take some advice from a few IndyCar drivers who have continued to receive spinal fractures of this nature.

It wasn’t so long ago that Dario Franchitti required surgery and missed nine months of racing while recuperating from an L1 Compression Fracture. In May 2009, Vitor Meira sustained fractures of two vertebrae in a crash during the 2009 Indy 500, which forced him to miss the remainder of the season. Will Power also sustained a compression fracture in his lower back in the crash that killed Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Power also received a similar injury after a crash at Sonoma Raceway, in August 2009. Power continues to suffer from these injuries to this day.

Hamlin might also want to take some advice from fellow competitor, Jeff Gordon, who has continued to suffer from back pain over the last few years and has even developed arthritis in his back due to the continuous stress received during competition. Gordon has also mentioned that the G-Forces and braking used at Richmond has been hard on his back in the past.

While I hope that Hamlin makes his return to racing soon, and I wish it could be at his home track on the same weekend as the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown, making a rapid decision like this could mean further pain, suffering and a shortened career in the long run. Is it really worth that risk?

Ellen Richardson is a Newsletter Contributor for Frontstretch.com. She can be reached via e-mail at frontstretcheditors@googlegroups.com.

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