Denny Hamlin Getting Out Of His Car Was Right Decision

Hamlin was right to turn over his car to Erik Jones at Bristol.
Hamlin was right to turn over his car to Erik Jones at Bristol.

This won’t be one of my lengthy diatribes on an issue. It’s pretty simple. Athletes that are in sports that expose them to repeated high g-force impacts are in danger of repercussions of their health in later years.

There have been a few calls from pundits in the motorsport media that question whether or not the present NASCAR rules are too easy for a driver to opt out of a race if they are a lock for the Sprint Cup Chase. It’s a legitimate question, but doesn’t address whether or not them opting out is legitimate if they are injured.

Football, boxing, UFC or any impact sport can have a cumulative effect on the individual. The most common concussion can have severe ramifications if the injured goes back onto the track or field too soon. It’s called “Second Impact” syndrome.

Racing cars while injured is nothing new. In the early days of Formula One the mortality rate was 50% in a given season. By the time Niki Lauda had arrived they had brought that statistic down to a 20% chance of being killed in any given race. Those odds are more in line with a war zone firefight than a sport.

The era of the invincible macho man driver is just not acceptable in the modern era.

There will always be danger in auto racing, if anything that was not thought of can happen in an event, it’s auto racing. However, to court disaster is foolish if you know you can prevent it.

Jim Fitzgerald. One of the kindest, nicest and inveterate competitors I've ever known.
Jim Fitzgerald. One of the kindest, nicest and most inveterate competitors I’ve ever known.

Denny Hamlin has suffered more than one injury. After spending 4 races sitting on the sidelines after a hard hit at Auto Club Speedway in 2013, Hamlin, no doubt, has a great appreciation for what broken bones, severely injured muscles or a potential cervical spine fracture might mean.

I know first hand from:

  • Crashing at the start of a motocross race in South Carolina, broken Coccyx. The lower tip of my spine. 45 years later and I still suffer from that pain.
  • Having had a mild concussion received from crashing at Lime Rock at the Uphill. I had headaches for 6 months. Macho man, didn’t let it get to me.
  • Training on a bicycle, very experienced, 200-300 miles per week, I was hit from behind by a car. Went through the windshield, was thrown back out and over 50 feet. Broken sternum, broken leg, fractured right arm, cracked vertebrae, crushed ankle and multiple lacerations. I was on crutches and rehab for over a year.

To this day I have pain unless I work out those areas religiously.

Had I been Denny Hamlin and my neck suddenly experienced severe shooting pains, Chase or no Chase, I would have gotten out of that car. It would have been the hardest thing I would have to have done, but necessary.

Injuries such as this are not to be trifled with.

A great friend of mine, Jim Fitzgerald was killed at St. Petersburg years ago. Basilar Skull Fracture, now we have the Hans device in NASCAR, long after the other forms of motorsport adopted it. It was only after Dale, Sr. was killed did that become mandatory.

Jeff Gordon hits the wall, next big thing: More Safer Barriers.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. crashes and doesn’t realize he has a concussion for three races. His vision started to blur. He sat out four races.

NASCAR made the rules. But did they make it too easy for the drivers to opt out? What professional driver is going to climb out of his/her racing car just because they have a little neck pain. It had to have been severe and disconcerting considering Hamlin’s past injuries.

Apparently Denny Hamlin’s pain was great enough that he knew something was wrong and to continue would likely exacerbate the problem potentially keeping him from one or more races forthcoming.

Hamlin made the right decision. You can race another race, but you only get one go round in this life.


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