Sidelined driver won't need surgery on ailing back
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin will likely be sidelined for up to six weeks as a result of an injury suffered on the final lap of Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Toyota fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing, suffered an L1 compression fracture when his car struck the inside wall after contact with Joey Logano as the two exited the fourth turn of the 2-mile speedway.
According to a statement from team officials, upon his return to North Carolina on March 26, Hamlin was evaluated by Dr. Jerry Petty of Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates. Dr. Petty determined that Hamlin, 32, would not require surgery, but for the injury to properly heal, the driver would need to remain out of the car for up to a month and a half.
Dr. Petty will make the determination when Hamlin will be able to return to racing this season, the statement said.
JGR officials said no decision had been made on a replacement driver during Hamlin’s absence. The Cup Series is off this week, but returns to action April 7 at Martinsville, Va. If Hamlin is sidelined for the full six weeks, his return likely would not be until early May when the series visits Darlington, S.C.
Hamlin, who was airlifted out of Auto Club Speedway and spent the night in a local hospital before returning home, posted the following tweet Monday night: "I wish I got good news today.. I didn't." Tuesday night, he followed up via Twitter: "If me getting back in a car was based on pain tolerance then I would be in the car next week. There's just more to it that I can't control."
Being forced to miss up to five races would likely eliminate Hamlin from championship contention. He is currently 10th in the standings after the season’s first five races. Drivers are required to complete at least one lap in an event to earn points.
However, Hamlin could still qualify for the season-ending Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup should he win enough races upon his return to qualify for one of the two wild-card positions available. The Chase field consists of the top 10 in points after 26 races, as well as the two drivers between 11th and 20th with the most wins. Hamlin has never missed the Chase in his previous seven full-time seasons.
Elliott Sadler, a former Sprint Cup driver who now competes for JGR in the Nationwide Series, said earlier Monday on SiriusXM Radio’s NASCAR channel that he had not spoken to JGR officials about possibly serving in a relief role should Hamlin be sidelined.
The Nationwide series is off two of the next six racing weekends (Martinsville and Kansas), but will run companion events at Texas, Richmond and Talladega.
Hamlin and Logano tangled a week before the Auto Club event, in Bristol, leading to an altercation afterward in the garage area. In the waning laps of Sunday’s race, the two were battling for the lead when they again made contact. Logano’s Penske Racing Ford slid across the nose of Hamlin’s Toyota before striking the wall. Hamlin’s car spun, then drove straight into the inside wall near the entrance to pit road. The impact lifted the car completely off the ground.
Although he was able to climb from his car, Hamlin quickly laid down as rescue workers arrived on the scene.
Kyle Busch shot past Logano and Hamlin as the two battled to score the win.
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