- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in Denny Hamlin's left knee will not limit the Sprint Cup driver behind the wheel for the next race, according to one of the doctors that will perform the operation on Wednesday.
"I anticipate by the time he gets to Phoenix [April 8-10] he'll have a pretty normal knee for all intents and purposes," said Dr. Bill Heisel, who will assist Dr. Patrick Connor of OrthoCarolina in Charlotte, N.C.
Heisel said the winner of Monday's race at Martinsville Speedway may be in some pain or discomfort for a few weeks after the surgery, but added that range of motion to use the brake or clutch won't be impacted.
"He's going to feel something, even at Phoenix," Heisel said. "The big thing is to control the swelling to get the motion going. Straight ahead he should be pretty good. Obviously, what you don't want him to do is wreck the car.
"But I anticipate he's going to be able to clutch and brake pretty quickly."
Heisel said the procedure will involve making tunnels through Hamlin's shin bone and thigh bone to pass the tendons from a cadaver into place and lock each end with a screw.
He said physical therapy will begin immediately to improve mobility and strengthen the quadriceps, and that Hamlin will have to wear a brace for a while when not in the car.
"He'll be back running in three months," Heisel said.
Hamlin originally said he would not have the surgery until after the season. But after increasing pain and the threat of long-term damage he opted to move forward with the surgery on Monday with an open week in the schedule.
That was delayed until Wednesday after Sunday's race was rained out.
"Regardless of what happened today or point position that we were in before or after today, it's something that had to be done," said Hamlin, who improved from 19th to 15th in points. "The doctor expressed long-term damage possibilities. We felt like we were not going to sacrifice our season if we did it at this point.
"That was the determining factor."
Hamlin was feeling little pain after Monday's win, saying on his Twitter page, "Thank goodness surgery isn't till Wednesday because I'm gonna rock out tonight."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.