Hamlin hammers wall, says back is OK
June 30, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
SPARTA, KY. -- Denny Hamlin didn’t have to get checked out at the infield medical center after crashing Sunday at Kentucky Speedway, but the Joe Gibbs Racing driver decided to visit the facility anyway.
Hamlin suffered a pair of tire failures in the rain-delayed event, the second one coming when he was running in the top 10, and sending him hard into the outside wall. Hamlin said he had his “bell rung” by the right-side hit, but that his back -- which suffered a broken bone after another accident earlier in the season -- felt fine after the impact.
“I had to take a moment when I got out of the car to kind of gather my thoughts, because I didn’t feel all that great,” he said. “The medical staff came and checked me out, and we decided to come here and check everything out, and everybody did the procedures you’re supposed to do. Really as a driver, it’s up to you. When you drive your car back, it’s up to you to make the right decision to get checked out or not. Obviously I believe in the NASCAR medical staff, so this what we do.”
Because Hamlin drove his crumpled No. 11 car back to the garage area, he wasn’t obligated to visit the care center. Hamlin missed four full races after suffering a fractured back vertebra in a crash also involving Joey Logano on the final lap of the March 24 event at Auto Club Speedway.
Hamlin said he banged his knee against the steering column and suffered a headache in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s incident, but felt better after leaving the care center. He added that the hit was similar to the right-side impact he withstood during a test day at Kansas Speedway prior to the race weekend there last fall. He reported feeling dizzy following that wreck, and was advised to sit out an hour and get reevaluated. He was cleared to return to competition afterward.
“We’re carrying a lot of speed off (Turn) 4,” said Hamlin, who also had a tire go down early in Sunday’s race. “For me it didn’t go down slowly like the tire did the first time. This one just blew out solid and went down quick. Obviously when I lost steering, it hit flat. I’d rather hit head-on just about anywhere than flat against one of these walls.”
Hamlin said his back was fine. “That was the least of the concerns after this,” he said.
In worse shape were his long-shot odds of making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, which get bleaker with every passing week. Hamlin entered Sunday 25th in points, needing to get inside the top 20 and earn likely more than one race victory to put himself in Wild Card contention. A lone solace was that Hamlin rebounded from Sunday’s first tire issue to get back into the top 10.
“I felt pretty good about the way we were running today,” Hamlin said. “With the right track position, you could run with just about anybody except for maybe the 48 (of Jimmie Johnson). We’re just going to try to win races. That’s what my deal for the rest of the year is, to just try to win and do the best I can for my sponsors and my team. Really the big thing I was pushing for was to get my team into the chase. … this is obviously another hit.”
Team owner Joe Gibbs visited Hamlin in the infield care center -- although he was initially stopped by a security guard -- and said plans remained in place for the driver to test Monday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I didn't realize he hit that hard,” Gibbs said after JGR driver Matt Kenseth won the race. “And so when I got back there, he had the basic, his complaints were, he said, ‘Man, I've got a headache, like you wouldn't believe.’ And he banged his knee on the inside. Then we went to the care center, and right away, he said, ‘I started feeling better and better and better.’ So they feel good about it. Tomorrow we are going to test at Indy. They called the doctor over there, he's going to take a look at him before he gets in the car, but I think we are in good shape there.”
Gibbs said he also didn’t see any reason to pull Hamlin from the car over health concerns should his Chase chances disappear. Hamlin has made the playoff in every full-time season on which he’s competed on the circuit.
“I don't see any reason,” Gibbs said. “I think Denny wants to stay after it and we have a chance to get some wins for FedEx. And who knows what's going to happen. We could get hot. I know he'll be the favorite at several of these race tracks we have down the stretch over these next nine weeks. Who knows,maybe (there’s) a miracle in there. And you can't have a great comeback unless you're behind, so we'll just go after it and do the best we can. I think Denny feels that way, too. He was fired up for today. I felt like he was going to get after it today. So he's got a good attitude, and we'll keep swinging.”