- Terry Blount, ESPN Staff Writer
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AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Sprint Cup driver Denny Hamlin, who had surgery nine days ago to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, started the first practice session in the No. 11 Toyota, but allowed relief driver Casey Mears to replace him for part of the session.
Hamlin planned to get back in the car later in the session when the team switched to its qualifying setup.
Hamlin completed 22 laps and was 10th on the speed chart before Mears took over in the middle of the session.
Hamlin, limping and in obvious pain, is hoping to race all 375 laps Saturday night in the Subway Fresh Fit 600 at Phoenix International Raceway. He must start the race to earn the points for the event.
Mears will stand by in Hamlin's pit box in case Hamlin needs to get out of the car. One reason to put Mears in the car Friday was to make sure he was comfortable in the seat.
Hamlin is coming off his first victory of the season two weeks ago at Martinsville, two days before undergoing knee surgery.
He tore his ACL in the January while playing basketball. Hamlin hoped to get through the entire 2010 season before having surgery, but realized that wasn't possible after also tearing cartilage in the knee.
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com.