CONCORD -- Just when Denny Hamlin thought things couldn't get any worse, he fell hard on his left hip playing basketball and could hardly walk when he arrived Monday for testing at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
"I'd like to say I was going up for a dunk, but I think everybody knows that ain't true," Hamlin said. "When I went up, the person was lower than I was and I kind of clipped over his shoulder and I was horizontal to the ground — that was bad. It popped and it doesn't feel good at all.
"I couldn't lay on it last night, and it ain't getting much better."
The injury came roughly 24 hours after Hamlin led a record 381 of the first 382 laps at Richmond International Raceway, only to lose a coveted win on his hometown track when he cut his right front tire. He had to intentionally stop his car on the track to bring out the caution needed to head to pit road for a tire change.
He went from a certain win to a 24th-place finish, and was criticized for the deliberate caution that played a factor in the final outcome. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was wrecked by Kyle Busch after the restart, and Clint Bowyer scooted by both for the victory.
"I was trying to get to pit road and the problem was if I ran any kind of speed around the race track, I was going to drag the sway bar arm off," he said. "I went into Turn 3 and that's when I totally lost the entire tire, so I stopped trying to be able to turn it down onto pit road, but I'd already crossed over to the wall.
"I didn't want to risk tearing up the car to where we'd risk not being able to finish the race. So I had to stop or else I was going to jeopardize us even finishing the race."
NASCAR penalized Hamlin two laps for causing the caution, and Earnhardt was critical of the move. Some fans even accused Hamlin of deliberately bringing out the yellow to give Busch, his teammate, a better chance to catch Earnhardt after the restart.
Hamlin insisted he had no idea where Busch was even running, and he stopped on the track only to ensure he didn't fail to finish a race he was moments away from winning. He also said he wasn't worried about any negative reaction in the garage.
"I think everyone has been in that situation, so nobody will say anything to me about stopping," he said. "I was already (mad) because I felt like we should have won the race. Regardless, if I was running fifth, I would have done the same thing because I pride myself on not getting DNFs. If I would have run one more lap on that flat tire ... we would have been done.
"I had to do what I had to do, regardless if it affected someone else or not."
The ending was devastating for Hamlin, who grew up just outside of Richmond in Chesterfield as a season-ticket holder to the track. He sat as a child in the Turn 4 stands cheering on favorite driver Bill Elliott, and his parents mortgaged just about everything they owned to fund his racing career — all in the hopes he'd someday reach Richmond's Victory Lane.
So he was deeply disappointed when he left the track Saturday night, and spent a sleepless 24 hours watching TV alone. He said his roommates didn't dare speak to him until he was finally coaxed out of the house for the basketball game late Sunday evening.
"Everyone that's close to me knows I don't like to be consoled, so it was quiet. I didn't sleep at all," Hamlin said. "I cannot imagine it being anymore devastating for myself that it was. It's a hard, hard pill to swallow."