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March 23, 2014

Denny Hamlin misses Auto Club 400 with infection

Joe Gibbs Racing driver replaced by Sam Hornish Jr.

RELATED: Update on Hamlin’s condition

FONTANA, Calif. — Only minutes before the start of Sunday’s Auto Club 400, Joe Gibbs Racing officials announced that driver Denny Hamlin was not medically cleared to race because of a sinus infection that was causing vision problems.

Sam Hornish Jr. will drive the No. 11 FedEx Toyota in his place — the second time Hornish has been called into emergency substitute duties. He replaced AJ Allmendinger at Daytona in July of 2012, arriving minutes before the start of that race.

“The doctors here say Denny has to go to hospital right now and get it checked out,” said Joe Gibbs Racing President JD Gibbs, who only found out about the situation 10 minutes before driver introductions began. “They (NASCAR) just said, ‘hey we can’t approve it, until he gets checked out by ophthalmologist.’ ”

The Gibbs team was frantically working on the car on pit road even during pre-race ceremonies while Hornish was changing into his drivers suit and helmet.

Crew chief Darian Grubb said they wouldn’t need — or have the chance — to change out the seat for Hornish. The last Sprint Cup race he competed in was April of 2013 at Kansas. He finished 37th.

“Hopefully it’s nothing but they think it’s better for him to be checked out,” team founder Joe Gibbs said.

About 20 laps into Sunday’s race, Hamlin put out a statement through his Twitter account:

“So disappointed that I can’t compete today. Sorry to all my fans. Thought we had a car that could win today. Good luck to @SamHornish.”

Hamlin was involved in a major wreck last year at Auto Club that left him with a fractured back, causing him to miss four races and part of a fifth.

He was taken to a local hospital for further evaluation and released. He will be further evaluated this week in Charlotte, Joe Gibbs Racing said in a statement.


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