News & Media

Hamlin crashes in Kansas test

October 18, 2012, David Caraviello,

No. 11 driver evaluated twice at track's care center after hitting wall in Turn 1

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Denny Hamlin didn't have to visit the infield care center after he steered his banged-up race car back to the garage area following a hard hit in testing at Kansas Speedway. But upon the recommendation of a Sprint Cup official, he did -- all in the wake of two recent concussions suffered by NASCAR's most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., the first of which occurred at the same 1.5-mile track.

Hamlin admitted to some dizziness after a hit early in Thursday's second day of testing at the resurfaced Kansas track, where his car clipped the Turn 1 wall at approximately 202 mph, shot down to the apron and turned back up into the wall after the driver overcorrected. He was checked out at the care center after the accident, then told to come back again after an hour for reevaluation -- after which he was cleared to participate in the remainder of the event weekend.

"I was honest with [the track medical staff] and said I was a little dizzy. They said, 'well, come back in an hour and we'll make sure you're OK.' A lot of it was my car wasn't going to be ready for an hour anyway, so it just made sense to come back..."


"It was hard enough that you want to get checked out," Hamlin said. "I felt the need just to make sure I was OK. I don't want to be endangering myself or anyone else on the track. They seem to think I'm fine, I feel like I'm good, so we're just going to move on with our day."

The crash ruined what was Hamlin's primary car for Sunday's Cup event, which begins the second half of a Chase in which the Joe Gibbs Racing driver stands 15 points behind leader Brad Keselowski. The vehicle was the same one that Hamlin used four weeks ago at New Hampshire, where he led 193 laps in a dominant victory. Now he turns to his backup, which was the car he raced in the Chase opener at Chicagoland, where he was running fourth until running out of fuel on the final lap and finishing 16th.

"I was very optimistic about what we had going for us," said Hamlin, whose third lap on the track Thursday placed him second-fastest on the speed chart. "But like [crew chief] Darian [Grubb] said, we don't have any backup cars. There's no such thing. All of our backups are primaries that have raced somewhere else. I think our Chicago car, he said, is basically the sister to it -- so we should be fine."

Hamlin's accident occurred on the same track where Earnhardt Jr. crashed in a tire test in late August. Although he didn't admit it publicly at the time, Earnhardt suffered a concussion in that incident, and sustained another six weeks later in a crash on the final lap of the race at Talladega. Dizziness and headaches after that latter accident led him to consult a neurosurgeon, and Kansas marks the second of at least two Cup races he's sitting out while waiting for symptoms to clear.

Drivers are required to visit the care center if their vehicles are disabled on the race track. Thursday Hamlin drove his wrecked No. 11 back to the garage area, and said two Cup officials who were looking over the Toyota advised him to get checked out.

"Can't remember it happening before," Hamlin said. "But honestly, the severity of it, and the speeds we were running, it probably was a wise thing to do anyway."

The accident occurred during the second day of open testing on a track that was resurfaced over the summer. Regan Smith -- driving the No. 88 in relief of Earnhardt -- turned the fastest lap of the session at 186.143 mph, which was quicker than the fastest lap turned Wednesday, 184.900 by Greg Biffle. Both speeds easily eclipsed the track record of 180.856 set in 2005 by Matt Kenseth -- a mark that's almost certain to fall in Cup qualifying on Friday. Tony Stewart lost an engine Thursday, but it was not the one the reigning series champion planned to use in competition this weekend.

Hamlin's top speed was 12th-fastest of the day. His crash was hard enough that Clint Bowyer, who was running behind Hamlin at the time of the accident, took note.

"I was pulling on the race track and I saw him," Bowyer said. "He was sideways way, way early and I was trying to figure out what the hell was going on, and then I saw him get on the apron and he was in trouble, man. He hit hard -- real hard."

In the care center, Hamlin admitted to doctors that he felt some dizziness after the crash. He told reporters that it's not usual for him to feel sore, or for his jaw to feel stiff from clenching, after a hit of that magnitude. "But this was the first time I really kind of got dizzy," he said. Even so, he said he felt better than a 2008 crash at Talladega where he blew a tire, suffered what he called a slight concussion, and ended up in the hospital getting an MRI.

"This one, I feel much better," he said. The feeling Thursday was "just bell rung," he added. "Just typical hard hit, ring-your-bell type thing. You get jarred around, you feel a little out of it for a second. But everything came back."

Hamlin said he was honest with doctors in the care center about how he felt after the crash.

"The medical staff can't do their job unless I can tell them what's going on," he said. "They might as well not be here if I was going to tell stories and give a false sense of security to them. I'm honest with them. I knew that I was fine. I just had my bell rung, and let them do their jobs from there on out. Their job was to assess, say let's come back and look at you in an hour, and then we'll clear you. That's what they did."

The one-hour wait period was also a first for him, Hamlin said, although follow-up with care center personnel is not.

"They reevaluate with me [after] each wreck, through text messages to ask how you're doing and everything," he said. "But, simply because of the speed of the impact, I think that they were just trying to be safe in asking me how I felt. I was honest with them and said I was a little dizzy. They said, 'well, come back in an hour and we'll make sure you're OK.' A lot of it was my car wasn't going to be ready for an hour anyway, so it just made sense to come back and make sure we're all good."

Even so, Hamlin admitted he probably wouldn't have gone to the care center on his own, had officials not suggested he do so. Earnhardt's recent admission has raised awareness of concussions throughout the sport, even though drivers still seem reticent to pull themselves out of the car if they're not feeling right. Earnhardt himself confessed to competing at less than 100 percent for a few weeks after his first concussion.

"I don't know if you're going to have drivers voluntarily step out of the car," Hamlin said. "That will be the continued challenge of it. No matter how you feel or anything like that, you're not going to want to step out of your car. I think that [Earnhardt] was generally worried for himself and knew how he felt. He made the decision evidently to pull himself out. I don't think drivers will treat it any different. I think they'll do the same things they've been doing."