FORT WORTH, Texas - Denny Hamlin knows all about playing through pain.
In March 2010, Hamlin underwent knee surgery to repair a torn ACL the day after winning at Martinsville. Three weeks later, he was back in Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway. Hamlin went on to win eight races that season.
In a 2013 accident at Auto Club Speedway — the result of hard racing against his nemesis, Joey Logano — Hamlin sustained a compression fracture to his spine and sat out four races, but he returned to win four poles and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Hamlin sustained another ACL tear playing basketball in 2015, but he put off surgery until the end of the season. The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota won two races and three poles in 2015, despite having to put up with the discomfort in his knee.
And this year, even though he’s one of the favorites to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title, Hamlin has been dealing with a painful shoulder issue, a torn labrum, that will require surgery at the end of the season.
“I really don’t know how it happened, to be honest with you, but it’s something that has been nagging really for years,” Hamlin acknowledged on Friday at TMS, the site of Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“I’ve had shoulder issues. It just got to the point where it was really bad, and got it scanned and figured out what it was. It hadn’t really affected me in the car at all. That part has really been fine.”
In fact, the shoulder issue hasn’t had a pronounced effect on Hamlin’s athletic pursuits, which include basketball, golf and weight training.
“It really hasn’t limited me, to be honest with you,” said Hamlin, who is second in the playoff standings, 24 points ahead of fifth-place Kevin Harvick, the first driver below the cut line in the Round of 8. “It’s uncomfortable while sleeping. I can’t sleep on that side, but it really hasn’t limited me, to be honest. I got a cortisone shot in it, which really, really helped.
“That’s like my saving grace, when things start hurting. So that really changed. It went from being immobile to feels like there is nothing wrong with it right now. I can still lift weights. I can only do them a certain way. I have to limit my mobility on that part, but it hasn’t affected anything in my everyday life.”
Kevin Harvick may be 14 points below the current cut line for the Championship 4 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, but if it weren’t for near-flawless execution by Harvick and his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team, the deficit might be much larger.
Harvick hasn’t drawn a pit road speeding penalty for more than a year, and it’s not because he and his team aren’t pushing the limits. They’re simply that precise.
“We’ve been as aggressive on pit road as we’ve always been,” Harvick said. “I tell our young guys this, whether I have something to do with them or not. We still practice every week. Every week we go up and down pit road, in and out of the pit box. Hard onto pit road, hard off of pit road. It isn’t something you can let your guard down with.
“As you look at it, I feel like it is one of the reasons our team is still in it. I don’t feel like we’ve had that knockout speed that the Gibbs cars have had on a week-to-week basis. We have had it a few times and been able to capitalize on that, but I feel like we’ve done a good job minimizing the mistakes, and we have three more weeks to do that.
“It has been those types of scenarios. Solid execution of things, except for a few weeks that we have had here lately for the most part that have kept us in the mix all year.”
The winner of the last two playoff races at Texas, Harvick had good speed in opening practice on Friday. He posted the 10th-fastest single lap and was second quickest in best consecutive 10-lap average.
As part of a successful outreach to the Latino community, Mexican driver Daniel Suarez will have his own cheering section for the AAA Texas 500.
“Yeah, it’s a special weekend for myself and the team,” Suarez said on Friday afternoon at Texas. “We have a lot of exciting things going on, starting with another weekend of Daniel’s Amigos. We are bringing a lot of people that are Latinos out to the race track. We have pretty incredible numbers.
“We have over 5,000 subscribers for this weekend alone which is pretty amazing since this is just the fourth race we have been doing this. I feel like we are moving the needle. Last time in Las Vegas we had almost 2,000, and that was pretty unbelievable. We have high expectations for the weekend. Hopefully we can have fun with Daniel’s Amigos and have some good results on Sunday.”
Suarez expects more than 1,000 of his subscribing amigos to attend Sunday’s race.
“I am very happy to be a small part of this,” Suarez said. “It’s something that just started as an idea and is now a reality. I am very happy to be a part of this. Of course, without help from the race tracks and NASCAR and Coca-Cola and a lot of people, this wouldn’t be possible. I feel very fortunate to be able to bring new fans to the race track.”
Suarez is wearing a special helmet designed by Dallas-based artist Agustin Chavez, who is from Suarez’s home state of Nuevo Leon. The helmet, featuring the image of a “sugar skull,” was created in celebration of the “Dia de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead), which is celebrated Nov. 1 and 2.
“This weekend is Dia de los Muertos in Mexico and is a very important holiday for every Mexican,” Suarez said. “We celebrate all those people, family members that have passed. It is a big holiday in Mexico.
“For years now I had an idea of doing a Dia de los Muertos helmet. It has skulls and flowers and is very colorful. A friend of mine did a really cool design and we decided to put it into reality onto the helmet, and it turned out amazing. It’s pretty cool to see the outcome of the helmet, and a lot of people like it so far.”
Having re-signed with Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2020 season, Brandon Jones is relieved to get the business aspect of racing out of the way. “It’s a big weight off of our shoulders,” said Jones, fresh from his victory at Kansas, his first NASCAR Xfinity Series win. “Any driver right now is fighting to get some stuff going, and that was really big for us to be able to come back for 2020”.
Stewart-Haas Racing on Friday announced a technical alliance with GoFas Racing, through which SHR will provide chassis, data and technical support for the No. 32 Ford next year. GoFas will maintain its relationships with Ford Performance and Roush Yates Engines. “2020 will be an exciting year at GFR with the addition of SHR cars and their technical assistance,” said GFR owner Archie St. Hilaire. “I can’t thank all of the great people at SHR for the opportunity to align with them. GFR has improved every year in our six years in the NASCAR Cup Series, and I believe that the best is yet to come for this little team and our great group of employees.” Corey LaJoie currently drives the No. 32 Ford, but the team has not named a driver for 2020...
Stewart-Haas Racing drivers topped the speed charts in Friday’s two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practices on Friday. Clint Bowyer paced the first session with lap 188.679 mph. Aric Almirola was fastest in Happy Hour at 188.561 mph.
—By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.