Long: Don’t be quick to restrict driver freedoms

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RICHMOND, Va. – Denny Hamlin can’t wait to play basketball again, to drive the lane, shoot 3-pointers and muscle for rebounds.

And he should even after suffering a torn ACL earlier this week – the second time since 2010 he’s suffered such an injury playing basketball. He damaged his left knee five years ago. He hurt his right knee Tuesday and will have surgery in the offseason.

Some have suggested that Hamlin should not have been playing basketball with the Chase for the Sprint Cup starting next week. The argument is that a driver should not jeopardize their title hopes with anything that could lead to injury. Of course, some of those people would prefer drivers be bubble-wrapped when not in the car – a truly absurd notion.

So is the idea that Joe Gibbs Racing should bar Hamlin from playing basketball again because he’s been injured twice. Gibbs has a simple policy on what drivers can do, according to Hamlin.

“I can do anything I want, just don’t break the law,’’ he said Friday at Richmond International Raceway.

If one is going to keep a driver from playing basketball, what’s next? Carl Edwards broke his foot playing Frisbee six years ago. Ready to outlaw that? Many of the drivers live near Lake Norman, north of Charlotte, N.C. Greg Biffle bruised ribs when he slipped and fell on a boat deck six years ago. Should drivers be kept out of the water or anywhere near it?

No, these adrenaline junkies are going to look for their fix whether it is triathlons, biking, skiing, scuba diving, driving dune buggies or something else. The key is that they do all they can to ensure their safety.

“It is tough because you want to go and live your life and you can get hurt doing anything,’’ Edwards said about activities he does. “I’d say in general I don’t think about it too much. I go out and do the things that I want to do, but you do have to be conscious of it and I think everybody is.’’

Hamlin could be faulted for not pulling himself out of his recreation league basketball game sooner. He tweaked the knee earlier in the game but continued. His driving layup with five seconds left sent the game into overtime where he was injured.

Expect him back on the basketball court next year once he’s recovered from his surgery.

“It’s what I do to relieve stress, and I have fun doing it,’’ Hamlin said. “It’s the only way I’ll go for a run. There’s no way I could put on a running shoes and go on a 5-mile run. Put a ball in my hands and I’ll go for days.’’

Hamlin sees no reason to give up playing basketball because he doesn’t see the injury hindering in the car.

“I’m going to drive as fast as the car is going to let me go,’’ he said. “(The injury) juices you up that extra 10 percent to make sure you do your job. I’ll go out there feeling like I need to go out there and prove I am 100 percent.’’

Those who doubt Hamlin will say he should have sought an exemption to miss this weekend’s race and remain Chase eligible so he could have surgery instead of waiting until after the season.

“We were pretty confident that doing the surgery or not doing the surgery, either way, I would be the same inside the car,’’ Hamlin said. “So, why skip a week if I’m going to end up being the same anyway? It’s really just to improve life outside the car.

“Obviously I’m going to go through the next 10 weeks and can’t do any running or can’t do anything active for the next 10 to 11 weeks, so that part of it sucks, but, other than that, there just isn’t a benefit to do it right now especially since you don’t know how you’re going to react recovery-wise.’’

Hamlin says he expects to ditch the crutch he’s been using soon. He says he feels fine in the car and is focused on what’s ahead instead of the injury.

“I expect to be part of the final four at Homestead once again,’’ said Hamlin who finished third in the points last year. “I think we’re running better now than what we were then and we almost won it. I’m pretty confident about the way these Chase tracks lay out. There’s nothing that should keep me from being in that championship four.”

And nothing that should keep Hamlin out of his next basketball game when he’s ready to return.