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Monday, January 25, 2010
Drivers take Bobcats up on charity for Haiti relief


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Brad Keselowski dribbled awkwardly around the orange cones at the Charlotte Bobcats' Time Warner Arena on Saturday, completed a shaky chest pass through a large ring and stepped to the free throw line.

Air ball. Air ball. Air ball.

Rim shot. Rim shot.

Air ball.

Finally, swish.

It got worse on the other end when the Penske Racing driver went in for a layup off the wrong foot and tossed the ball toward the rim with the wrong hand -- three times before making it.

Keselowski didn't make a good argument for NASCAR drivers being athletes, even though four-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was named the Associated Press Athlete of the Year in 2009.

But he did cement the argument that drivers will do anything -- even if it means embarrassing themselves in front of more than 18,000 people -- for a good cause.

In this case Keselowski, Michael Waltrip, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kelly Bires competed in a basketball skills competition as part of a joint effort between NASCAR and the Bobcats to raise relief funds for Haiti.

No one cared how ridiculous he looked, and a few did look ridiculous in the competition won by Stenhouse, subbing for Denny Hamlin, who was sidelined with a torn ACL suffered the day before playing basketball.

"I say this all the time about drivers, they'll do anything for charity," said Kyle Petty, one of many other drivers also on hand to raise funds. "After watching those four there, that proves it. There were a bunch of 8-year-olds over there laughing at them."

Petty sacrificed, as well. The game originally was scheduled to raise money for his Victory Junction Gang camp for terminally and chronically ill children. But after earthquakes devastated Haiti, he and his wife Pattie agreed to forego a majority of the proceeds earned through ticket sales and donations to send funds to Haiti.

On top of that, the NASCAR Foundation donated $250,000 to Missionary Flights International, the group out of Florida that is coordinating planes such as the ones Hendrick Motorsports supplied to fly doctors, relief crews and supplies into and out of Haiti.

Keselowski's brother actually wound up on a Hendrick plane to Haiti after flying from his home in Michigan with a Christian mission group.

"We're all doing a little bit to help out," Keselowski said.

That included going outside their comfort zone to play basketball.

"Was that a skills competition or unskilled competition?" Petty asked with a laugh.

Yes, they had fun with this. Waltrip, who has donated one of his planes to fly doctors and supplies to Florida, was in rare form when it was noted that he and Keselowski looked the most out of place.

"I can't even believe you put me on the same level as Keselowski," said Waltrip, who claims his awkwardness was the result of a flagrant trip from a spectator. "[Keselowski is ] in a sissy league. I can play basketball pretty good when I'm in a more confined environment. Get me in the paint, baby, and I'm good."

At least he knew the free throw lane is called the paint. Otherwise, he looked as foreign there as he does in Victory Lane. Sorry, Michael, couldn't resist. At least I didn't say you dribbled like a girl. Or did I?

Or was that Keselowski that was directed at?

"Hey, I never said I could play basketball," said Keselowski , whose last-place time of 52 seconds was 20 seconds slower than Stenhouse's winning run. "I get paid to drive race cars.

"And I might have been the worst one out there, but the fans had more fun watching me."

They probably did. And it all was for a good cause, so that made it worth it.

***

Speaking of Hamlin.

Orthopedic specialist Dr. Robert Wyker says the torn ACL Hamlin suffered over the weekend should not limit him in competition once the swelling goes down.

Wyker said Hamlin should be ready to go with little to no pain in the left knee when Cup drivers begin preparing on Feb. 4 for the Budweiser Shootout and Daytona 500.

"Once the swelling goes down, the ACL in my opinion will not interfere with driving at all," said Wyker, who works for Raleigh (N.C.) Orthopaedic Clinic that represents the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes, N.C. State athletics and the Carolina ballet. "It's usually only a problem with cutting-type activities, people that play basketball and football and sports like that."

Hamlin tore the ACL in a pickup basketball game on Friday.

A team spokesman told ESPN.com's Marty Smith that the injury should not limit the driver. Wyker concurred.

"Lots of people can have a torn ACL and if you're running in a straight line or walking, you can do OK," said Wyker, who has spent time in a stock car in the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

Hamlin's movement in the car basically will be pushing in and out on the clutch and brake.

Wyker said Hamlin's biggest problem might be getting in and out of the car, which often requires a twisting motion. He agreed with the driver's decision to wait until the offseason for surgery, noting it normally takes four to six weeks for the knee to heal enough to handle the stress required in NASCAR competition.

He said there should be no long-term complications.

"The knee would be pretty swollen initially [after surgery]," Wyker said. "My question then would be drive duration. The knee might start aching and giving discomfort, taking his mind off what it should be on. After that, he should be fine."

Hamlin, who was limping badly at the Bobcats' game, remains optimistic. Considered a threat to end Jimmie Johnson's string of four straight Cup titles, he posted on his Twitter page Sunday night that "no matter what people may think this injury will not stop me from being a contender this year."

"I have always been very active outside of racing, mostly to stay in shape," he continued on his page. "This is a minor setback that will only serve as motivation for me."