Hamlin was supposed to get out of the car in his return race at Phoenix after knee surgery three years ago. But he stuck it out to prove something to his team because he was injured playing basketball and felt he owed it to his crew to fight through the pain.
"I felt like I had put my team in a very bad spot by getting hurt outside of racing," he said. "I stayed in to tell them basically that I was sorry and I was going to do whatever I could for them. That hurt worse than what this does in the race car."
There's no pain this time around, he said, and the only discomfort is when he actually gets out of the car. To alleviate that, the Joe Gibbs Racing team has taken the option of using a roof hatch and Hamlin is using it to exit the car.
He practiced the driver exchange with Vickers on Friday and twice did it in just over a minute — fast enough to ensure the car would remain on the lead lap if they swapped under caution.
Hamlin now goes forward this week balancing risk versus reward and the challenge ahead. He's currently 28th in the standings and needs to climb to 20th in the Sprint Cup standings to be eligible to claim one of two wild-card slots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
He'll earn the points Sunday if he starts the race.
"We're going to have to make a big, big run if we're going to be part of the postseason," he said. "Our Chase has to start right now. We have to perform each week like it's a Chase race and do everything we can to get wins. If we don't win, it doesn't matter."
But there is a risk, he admitted.
"I don't know the exact science, and no one knows the exact percentages. That's what makes this really, really hard," he said. "But, as far as I've been told, I understand it would take such a significant hit that you probably would be injured from it even if you were 100 percent healthy. I've got to let the doctors speak for that a little bit more than me because I don't know the risks exactly and neither do they. We're just trying to buy myself another week obviously until Darlington, but the risk is so minimal that it's almost not even there."