Sources: Hamlin to have standby driver

NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin will have reconstructive surgery on his left knee Monday, Joe Gibbs said.

Hamlin, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in January playing pickup basketball, planned to wait until the end of the 2010 season to repair it.

But growing fear of long-term damage forced his hand, sources said.

Hamlin plans to start every race and doesn't expect to miss any competition. Sources said he plans to have a driver on standby for several races just in case. It wasn't clear whom that driver would be.

Per NASCAR rules, the driver who takes the green flag in the car earns the championship points for that race, even if he gets out prematurely.

Hamlin's ability to drive the No. 11 Toyota is more about his pain tolerance than anything else, sources said. Strength-wise he should be fine. If he can handle the pain, he can race, the sources said.

Hamlin, widely considered the biggest threat to upend Jimmie Johnson's championship stranglehold, has begun slowly in 2010. He is 19th in the point standings and has yet to earn a top-10 finish in the season's first five events.

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.