For the first time since his wreck at Auto Club Speedway earlier this year, Denny Hamlin is back behind the seat of the racecar and says it’s feels really good to get back in and run some laps.
“I’m thankful for everything Brian (Vickers) has done over these last four weeks and what he’s going to do this weekend,” he added. “We appreciate that and FedEx for sticking through it with us and obviously showing us a lot of support. So, it’s definitely good to be back in a car and really just starting with hopefully what will be a good run in these next 17 weeks.”
Hamlin added that despite not liking superspeedway practice and racing, he couldn’t sleep last night knowing he’d be back in the car.
“This is an exciting time and obviously if it wasn’t for my crew chief (Darian Grubb), I would’ve stayed out there until I ran out of gas,” Hamlin comented. “It still — it’s exciting for me. The excitement will really be big when we get to Darlington next week.”
Hamlin added that he couldn’t sleep due that thirst to feel the speed again.
“We have alligator blood,” he continued. “I don’t know what to say. It’s just we’re a different breed that are willing to throw caution to the wind just to get back to what we love doing.”
Hamlin was sidelined after suffering an L1 Compression Fracture to his back following his crash on the last lap at Auto Club Speedway after contact with Joey Logano. The compression fracture is located in his lower back and occurs when a vertebrae in the spine collapses. It is an injury that can occur in people who are healthy when they suffer a vertical shock to the area.
Hamlin made hard direct head on contact with an inside wall at the track located in Fontana, California following contact with Joey Logano while racing for the win.
Hamlin says he feels no discomfort while he is in the car. The only thing that’s uncomfortable is climbing out through the driver’s window, so that’s the team opted to put in the roof hatch. The roof hatch was developed a couple seasons ago by NASCAR and is optional for teams to run every week.
“It’s much easier on me, and really any kind of twisting we can keep out of myself will be good,” he said. “Really, inside the race car I feel just like I did six, seven weeks ago. Excited about this weekend and finally getting back going again.”
Hamlin will not run the full distance on Sunday, opting to start the race to get the points and then get out under the first caution, allowing Brian Vickers to get in. They have timed the driver change and Hamlin says it took them one minute and six second twice in a row.
“There’s going to be a caution at some point and I’d like to get out to just insure myself of one more week of healing versus trying to come back in the middle of round six,” he commented.
To get this point to where he is now, Hamlin has been working on his back and spine area in rehab.
“It’s working on your core strength,” he said of the activities during rehab. “Just working on your hamstring. Everything that supports the back is what we’ve been working on, so really my rehab has been basically workout sessions. Not anything unordinary you wouldn’t see at a normal gym. Been working a little bit on — they have this traction machine that kind of works on your spine. I’ve been on that. I’ve been on a bone stimulator every day, so there’s a lot of little gadgets and whatnot that I’ve been on, but it’s been pretty easy.”
Hamlin added that he does plan to run the full distance next weekend at Darlington Raceway.
“We had an amazing group of doctors that looked my scans over, saw me in person and obviously it wasn’t a full consensus for Richmond, so we decided to err on the safe side,” Hamlin commented on the process. “And, knowing basically what we were going to do this weekend was going to be the equivalent of a quarterback basically hiking the ball and taking a knee we were going to very much minimize our risks this weekend of reinjuring ourselves, which gives us one more week to then heal. We’re going to rescan next week and obviously just make sure everything is still intact and everything is where it needs to be.”
Hamlin says that he has dealt with the emotions of being out of the car and now is excited about the challenge that lies ahead of him. In the next 17 weeks, Hamlin wants to get himself qualified into the Chase. The plan is to get into the top 20 of the points standings with two victories by the 26th race of the schedule to qualify. Hamlin currently sits 28th in points, 71 points out of 20th. The maximum points you can get for a race – by leading the most laps and winning – is 48.
“I think that our Chase has got to start right now,” Hamlin said. “We’ve got to perform each week like it is a Chase race and do everything that we can to get wins, because if we don’t win it really doesn’t matter. We’ve got some great tracks ahead of us. That part of it is exciting.”