One of the biggest storylines as we head into this weekend’s race at Phoenix will be how Denny Hamlin will perform just days after having his knee operated on to repair a torn ACL. Hamlin tore the ACL in his left knee while playing pickup basketball before the season started. The plan was for Hamlin to run the full season and have the injury fixed after Homestead, but pain and concerns over doing more damage led Hamlin to have the procedure done much sooner. Now, with Hamlin and his #11 Joe Gibbs Racing team possibly staring a lost season in the face, one has to wonder when teams will start banning their drivers and crew members from certain activities.
Contracts for many professional athletes contain clauses that prohibit the player from taking part in any number of activities that could pose a risk to the player’s health. With so much at stake, sports teams can’t afford to have their players getting injured doing crazy things. It’s not a stretch to think that NASCAR is next.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know a ton about drivers’ contracts. I would imagine that in this day and age most probably have some language that addresses this issue. But I’m wondering if the teams won’t start getting very specific about what their drivers can and can’t do away from the track. If Hamlin does end up struggling for the remainder of 2010, and Casey Mears does actually get some seat time, both the team and Hamlin will be left wondering “what if.”
Along with the drivers, many crew members have contracts with their teams. While pit crew guys aren’t making anywhere near the money that drivers are, I also wonder if teams might start to limit guys on what they can and can’t do. I have heard of some teams banning pit crew guys from playing organized sports like softball. These contracts certainly aren’t guaranteed, but an outside injury might be a reason that a team could void a crew member’s contract.
I do understand that sometimes accidents happen. In the course of normal life, people are going to get injured. And I also understand that guys like to do other things outside of racing. I’m certainly no different, but it seems silly to possibly risk your entire career over one game of pickup basketball with your buddies.