When Denny Hamlin won Texas on Monday, the first thing that came to my mind was Ricky Rudd winning Martinsville in 1998. Before I go further, let me give a little history lesson for those who are new to racing. Ricky Rudd was NASCAR?s ironman, the Cal Ripken Jr. of the sport. He holds the record for most consecutive starts, with 788 (spanning from 1981-2005). In 1984 his streak was put in jeopardy when he was involved in a terrible accident in the Busch Clash at Daytona. Rudd spun out and went airborne, flipping violently. The crash left him with a concussion and a couple of black eyes. A week later he managed to race in the Daytona 500 with his eyelids taped open as they were so swollen he was unable to keep them open. Not only was he able to race, he raced well, finishing in seventh place. And a week later in Richmond he picked up his third career victory. His other memorable race came in the 1998 Martinsville event. Just a couple laps into the 500 lap contest, Rudd?s cooling system failed. His pit crew tried to cool him down during pit stops, but their attempts backfired. They hosed Rudd down with water that (unknowingly) was so hot it gave him second degree burns. Being the tough guy that he was, Rudd stayed in the car and picked up his lone win of the year. After the race, he was interviewed on a stretcher wearing an oxygen mask. All of this brings me back to my point.
Yes Denny Hamlin seemed perfectly fine after yesterday?s race and I don?t think his win was quite as remarkable as Ricky's. However, since that scorching day in Martinsville Denny's performance was the closest I have seen to matching it. I have never torn my ACL and hope I never have to go through that experience, but I hear it is one of the most painful injures one can suffer. According to Hamlin himself, he has been in even more pain since the surgery (although he is getting better with every day). Maybe down the road when Denny decides to hang helmet up for good, he will be NASCAR?s next ironman.
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