MARTINSVILLE, Va._ News broke late Friday evening that preseason favorite Denny Hamlin will undergo surgery following this weekend’s race in Martinsville for a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver suffered the injury while playing basketball in January. Originally, Hamlin planned to have reconstructive surgery following the 2010 season, but after just six races the plans have changed.

“We were going to wait until the end of the season, but just decided it was not a good idea,” Hamlin said. “We were doing further damage to the knee and, to me, it’s something that’s not worth suffering forever or having a permanent limp. It just didn’t make much sense. The goal right now is to go ahead and get it done as soon as I can early Monday morning and then see where we’re at come Phoenix.”

Taking advantage of the Easter holiday, Hamlin will have reconstructive surgery on his knee this coming Monday and use the off weekend to help his recovery time. While he plans on competing at Phoenix, JGR has announced Casey Mears will serve as a stand-in driver for Hamlin if need be.

“First off, I’d rather not be a stand-in,” said Mears. “Obviously being in the position I am, I am able to do this. I feel good about it. I’m looking forward to getting to know the Gibbs guys a little bit. Their goal is for Denny’s surgery to go well and for them probably not to need me that much.”

Driving for start-up team Keyed-Up Motorsports this season, Mears has failed to qualify for five of the first six races.  For a guy that has been shuffled around the NASCAR garage year after year – Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing – Mears is now poised to work with yet another top of the line Sprint Cup Series team.

“In my position, I want to do all I can to create the best situation for myself and at the same time if it can help them out I’m really happy to do it,” Mears said.

While news broke of Hamlin’s surgery late Friday evening, Mears explained he learned of the situation a few weeks ago in Atlanta. He was approached about the opportunity while walking through the garage, but then he did not hear anything for about a week. Then, earlier this week he got the call.

“Keyed-Up Motorsports has given me a great opportunity that I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” Mears said. “I still want to do all that I can to help them out. Me being out of the car for a couple races probably isn’t the best thing for them, but when this deal is over I still want to work with those guys as best I can. If I can still go racing for them afterwards and try to get them up and going it’d be something for me to do and at the same time it would help them out. We’ll just have to wait and see how things work out. I’m not sure how long Denny’s recovery will be.”

Hamlin’s plans are currently to be in the car in Phoenix, but whether or not he will be able to remain in the car of the entirety of the event is yet to be seen. The Virginia-native explained he will use his right foot while braking in Phoenix, a departure from his typical style.

If Mears is given a shot behind the wheel of the No. 11 Toyota, he plans on doing his best to impress the guys at JGR. A three car team, JGR has run a fourth car from time to time with drivers such as David Gilliland behind the wheel. Despite his current role as a relief driver, Mears doubts he will be doing anything other than standing in for the recovering Hamlin.

“I think it’s very cut and dry what I’m here for, it’s basically to be a stand-in,” Mears said. “There is nothing beyond that. Anybody knows in this sport knows the more you’re out there, the more people you meet, the more opportunities come around. It never hurts to get to know these guys and hopefully things go well. If I do get to get in the car, hopefully they’re happy with what I do well. If something does come up in the future, hopefully I’m one of those guys they think of. I think that is, for sure, one of the small reasons for making this decision.”

No driver wants to sit on the side lines and wait for their turn behind the wheel, but for Mears this is an opportunity. Working with Keyed-Up Motorsports has been a mixed blessing, yet to work with another top-notch team gives the 32-year-old a foot in the door with JGR and the chance to once again show he has what it takes to compete on the top level in the Sprint Cup Series.

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