WASHINGTON—Denny Hamlin entered Wednesday optimistic he’d return to his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota this weekend at Richmond. He left the day with a tweet that ended those hopes.
Wednesday evening, Hamlin took to Twitter to announce he’ll miss his fourth consecutive race while recovering from a back injury.
“Unfortunately I won’t be racing this weekend at Richmond,” Hamlin tweeted. “It kills me to not be in the car for my team and sponsors but after long discussions with the doctors we have decided to wait on my return back to racing. Thanks to all of my fans who have sent encouraging messages over the last month. I’ll be back in no time.”
Hamlin, sidelined with a compression fracture of his first lumbar vertebra during a last-lap wreck Mar. 24 at Fontana, Calif., Wednesday morning said he had been preparing to get back into his No. 11 Toyota Friday at Richmond if he had medical approval. Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty has the final say and getting input from the group.
Still, Hamlin plans to start the race next week at Talladega and then give way to a relief driver. He’ll exit the car at Talladega at the first opportunity after riding in the back.
“We do have an agreement, I believe, on starting next week and getting out, so at least we’ll get some points starting next week,” Hamlin said. “After that, I don’t know. It just depends on what the doctors, the results of this (the scan) are and when they want to re-scan and check progression again…
“Physically, I’m not much different than I am every day with my mobility. … We obviously have to be smart about this, because it is just one season. Hopefully, there’s many more to come. I’m just trying to do the right thing for my team and sponsors, because I feel like they need me.”
Hamlin is leaning toward back surgery during the offseason—or perhaps sooner if his prospects of making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup evaporate – because the compression fracture exacerbated a problem with bulging discs that existed before the crash. The bulging discs are far more painful to the 32-year-old-driver than the compression fracture was.
“(The accident) really screwed ’em up,” Hamlin said. “I’m at the point now where, if they don’t let me back in the car in a timely fashion, where I’m going to be racing for nothing for the rest of the year, I’d just as soon do it now and get it over with and come back next year strong and ready to go.”
Hamlin visited Washington in advance of America’s Small Business Summit, where FedEx (the primary sponsor of Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota), the Red Cross and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce together will offer disaster preparedness tips to small businesses.
Earlier on Wednesday, Hamlin toured the American Red Cross Disaster Operations Center, the primary point of contact for all disaster services, before driving a street-legal version of his No. 11 Camry to the Grooming Lounge to participate in a preparedness review.
“The last couple of years we’ve informed some kids on what to do when a disaster strikes, to prepare themselves, their families and all that,” Hamlin said. “What we’re doing now is trying to get these small businesses to be informed, because, ultimately, our economy works around small businesses.
“Forty percent of small businesses that are affected by natural disasters never reopen. That’s a very disturbing stat. It affects a lot of families, because everyone that works here has two or three family members that live in their household, and they get fed off them being open. So we have to get them informed and very educated on what they can do in case a disaster strikes, to make sure their business is stronger on the way out.”