Hamlin aiming to race in Phoenix

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Denny Hamlin's rehabilitation of his left knee, which underwent surgery a week ago to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, remains on schedule and should allow him to compete in Saturday night's Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway.

"It's painful, as anyone who has had this surgery or any similar surgery can tell you, but I am working hard to get back my full range of motion and get back to where I need to be," Hamlin said in a news release.

Dr. Patrick Connor of OrthoCarolina in Charlotte performed the surgery last Wednesday. Bill Heisel, who assisted in the procedure, told ESPN.com the knee should be "pretty normal" by the time Hamlin got to Phoenix.

Heisel added that Hamlin shouldn't be restricted from using his left leg to clutch or brake as long as there was no abnormal swelling.

"They took good care of me and gave me every opportunity to be back in the car this weekend," Hamlin said. "All I can do now is work hard, follow the rehab program and see how fast I can get back.

"I have a couple of days yet to see how my knee responds and that will help me make the right decision when I get to Phoenix this weekend."

Casey Mears is on standby in case Hamlin has to come out of the car. Hamlin, who is 15th in points after his win at Martinsville before the Easter break, is expected at the very least to start the race in order to collect full points for the finish.

"Right now I am pretty much doing full days of rehab, working to get back my full range of motion, keeping the knee flexible and working to make it stronger while I get more comfortable with what I can and can't do right now," Hamlin said. "I spend three hours on the machine working on my range and I am making a lot of progress.

"It gets better every day and I know I am ahead of schedule for a surgery like this."

Hamlin has spent a good deal of time working to strengthen his quadriceps and back.

"It's coming around but it's a long and hard process and I knew that was going to be the case," Hamlin said. "It's not fun but I know that doing this now was absolutely the right thing to do. Now I am focused on getting back to racing."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.