Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ironically, knee surgery should make Kasey Kahne a favorite to win Daytona

Kasey Kahne was set to have one of the best years of his career in 2012 as he moved to Hendrick Motorsports to drive the #5 car, but then he underwent outpatient knee surgery last week to repair a torn meniscus.

Now he is almost certain to have the best season ever. He will probably contend for the championship and his odds of winning the Daytona 500 dramatically improved.

Most people might consider it a problem to have knee surgery (no matter how “minor”) just one week before the season starts. But, this is NASCAR we’re talking about.

For whatever reason, NASCAR drivers tend to turn into superstars when they have injuries to their legs.

Denny Hamlin underwent surgery to repair the ACL in his left knee in March 2010. He won at Martinsville with the injury just two days before the surgery and then went on to win seven more races and nearly win the championship.

Brad Keselowski became superhuman in 2011 after he broke his ankle in a testing accident in August. He won the next week at Pocono Raceway and finished the season fifth in the points standings with three wins.

Following those examples, Kahne has to be the favorite to win Saturday’s Budweiser Shootout or the Daytona 500 on Feb. 26.

To fuel the fire even more, this isn’t the first time Kahne has had to race after a knee surgery. Kahne has had four knee surgeries in the last 15 months, including last April before the spring race at Richmond.

He finished third in that race.

Maybe a leg injury for a NASCAR driver is similar to Tommy John surgery for a baseball pitcher. When a pitcher gets his elbow fixed he usually comes back throwing harder than he did before the surgery. It looks like NASCAR drivers drive faster than before their injury.

Obviously, it is likely just coincidence that all of these drivers have great races following leg injuries, or maybe an extra bit of competitive drive comes out in a driver when he is hobbled by a medical problem.

Granted, drivers don’t run up and down a field or court all day, but navigating a race track at 180-plus mph for 500 miles is no picnic.

Combine Kahne’s knee operation with the facts that Hendrick Motorsports is the dominant team in NASCAR and has won 10 Sprint Cup Series championships, and Daytona International Speedway might as well engrave Kahne’s name in the Harley J. Earl Trophy and put it in Victory Lane.

Even if there is some crazy reason NASCAR drivers run well (pardon the pun) after leg injuries, it would be even more remarkable if Kahne won at Daytona because circumstances determine a finishing position at restrictor-plate tracks as much or more so than the quality of car.

Also, regardless of the knee situation Kahne should have a very good season. He is in the prime of his career and in the best equipment he’s ever driven.

But, if Kahne wins during Speedweeks maybe some young drivers will want to spring for a knee surgery to help them race better.

Nah, we kid because we care.

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