Denny Hamlin reveals severity of shoulder injury, hints that Clash entry may be in question

Denny Hamlin, his right arm in a sling, fields questions at Champion's Week media rotations in Nashville.
Chris Graythen
Getty Images

NASHVILLE — Perennial NASCAR Cup Series championship contender Denny Hamlin came to Nashville wearing a soft brace on his right arm to immobilize his shoulder after surgery a week ago to repair a lingering rotator cuff injury — aggravated by pulled tendons he suffered “playing sports” just before the Oct. 15 playoff race in Las Vegas.

Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, didn’t disclose the injury publicly during the season, saying he didn’t want anyone to think it served as an “excuse” during his playoff performance. But he conceded Thursday that the post-surgery situation has turned out to be more painful and involved than he anticipated.

RELATED: Scenes from Champion’s Week

Surgeons have recommended three months of rest and rehabilitation so Hamlin is not absolutely certain today where he will be in the recovery process come the first race of 2024 – the Feb. 4 non-points Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum. He was reluctant to say for sure yet whether he would be in the field for that exhibition event or not.

“What I’m optimistic of is that I’ve got a great team that’s going to work on me to get this better and certainly, I find it hard to believe that I’ll have more pain in late-January than what I did in the end of October and November,” Hamlin said. “Getting through those last five races was really, really hard so I think if I can get through that, then certainly I’ll be able to challenge myself enough to get back in a car sooner than what they’d want me to.”

Hamlin finished fifth in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series championship, but the right-handed 43-year-old conceded the injury did force him to rely more on his left arm as he completed the final part of the 2023 postseason schedule.

“It was painful, there were many times when they asked me to turn on a switch and I couldn’t reach it, I couldn’t touch it,” Hamlin said. “We were certainly up against the odds, but one thing is I didn’t want to use it as any kind of excuse for not making the final four.

“I think really our performance was as good as it possibly could be on track. I did everything I could to succeed, we just didn’t get it done for whatever reason. Certainly, I didn’t want that to be any excuse of why we didn’t perform well. … It’s just one of those things, I grew up being a right-arm driver and during the playoffs had to switch to holding the wheel with the left hand, so it was certainly different.”

Hamlin, was a three-race winner last season, earning his milestone 50th NASCAR Cup Series victory at Pocono Raceway in July then answering with a 51st at the celebrated Bristol Motor Speedway night race in September during the playoff portion of the schedule.