Playing Hurt: Hamlin Shows Grit in Latest Win
From baseball's Schilling and Gibson, to basketball's Jordan and Reed, when the stakes are high, the elite seem to rise to the occasion even overcoming injury and adversity to win under prime-time pressure. Add NASCAR race car driver Denny Hamlin to the list.
One of the biggest question marks entering this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup was how well Hamlin's torn ACL would hold up under the grueling pressure of racing not only 42 other cars, but for a championship. On Sunday in Chicago, Hamlin not only finished the race, but did it over an aggressive, stout field of 42 other cars, as the two-time New Hampshire Motor Speedway winner picked up the win and automatic entry into the next round of the Chase.
"Imagine Tom Brady leading the Patriots to a first-round playoff win with a serious leg injury," said Jerry Gappens, executive vice president and general manager of the speedway. "Anyone who contends that race car drivers aren't athletes, I want to introduce them to Denny Hamlin. He's raced with torn ACL and a broken bone in his back. That's tough to maintain that high level of performance for a three-to-four hour competition with no time outs or half-time breaks!"
"In the car, I don't feel it," said the victorious Hamlin, when asked if his knee bothers him while he's racing. "The adrenaline pumps so much."
Ironically, Hamlin—a close friend of basketball legend Michael Jordan, torn his ACL not driving a race car, but playing basketball a few weeks ago. It's not the first time Hamlin has suffered an injury to his ACL, while playing basketball. In 2010, he tore the ACL in his left knee but still went on to have the best season of his career with eight wins and 18 top-10s, including 14 top-fives. He finished second in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Overcoming injuries to win championships is a rare and beautiful thing in the world of sports. Here's a list of some of the best comebacks from an injury in professional sports:
- Ernie Irvan, NASCAR: Given a 10 percent chance of survival, following a violent crash in practice in August 1994, Irvan not only survived but went on to complete his comeback by winning the Budweiser 300 on July 14, 1996 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
- Curt Schilling, Baseball: Injured in Game 1 of the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees, doctors for the Boston Red Sox stitched Schilling's tendon in his right ankle to keep it immobilized. He went on to lead the Red Sox to a win in Game 6 and eventually the World Series, ending an 86-year title drought in Beantown.
- Willis Reed, Basketball: In one of the more memorable moments in NBA history, Reed returned from a torn muscle in his thigh, inspiring the New York Knicks to a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals.
- Tiger Woods, Golf: Despite a torn ACL and a double stress fracture, Woods went on to win one of the sport's most grueling championships, the U.S. Open in 2008. Not only did Woods have play four rounds on the injury, but he had to win an 18-hole playoff that was tied before Woods finally ended it on the 19th hole.
- Kirk Gibson, Baseball: Suffering from two injured legs and a stomach virus, Gibson came off the bench for the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series to hit the game-winning home run off Oakland A's star closer Dennis Eckersely. The Dodgers went on to win the World Series in five games.
- Michael Jordan, Basketball: While not an injury per se, Jordan overcame a nasty flu that left him vomiting and running a fever just before tip-off in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals. He went on to score 38 points in a Chicago Bulls victory, giving them a 3-2 game lead over the Utah Jazz in the series that they wouldn't relinquish.
- Steve Yzerman, Hockey: The Detroit Red Wings' captain showed the heart of a champion in the 2002 Stanley Cup finals, overcoming a severe knee injury to lead the Wings past the Carolina Hurricanes for their third title in six seasons.
- Kerri Strug, Gymnastics: After a devastating ankle injury on her first vault during the team gymnastics portion of the 1996 Olympics, Strug landed a second vault on her feet to clinch the gold for Team USA in heroic fashion.
- Bobby Baun, Hockey: A Gordie Howe slap shot broke Baun's leg in Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup finals, but instead of leaving the game, Baun simply taped it up and went back onto the ice to score the winning goal in overtime to force a Game 7.
- Drew Brees, Football: In the last contest of the 2005 NFL season, Brees tried to dive for a fumble and ended up tearing his labrum and partially tearing his rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder. Despite being passed over by a host of teams, Brees went on to make a full recovery, leading the New Orleans Saints to the Super Bowl XLIV title and winning the game's MVP award, along with the AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
To see if Hamlin, who predicted victory and then backed it up Babe Ruth-style here in 2012, can battle through injury to win again this week in New Hampshire, purchase tickets to the SYLVANIA 300 by stopping by our Ticket Office, visiting the speedway website at www.nhms.com, or calling our Ticket Hotline at (603) 783-4931.