TALLADEGA, Ala.– If there’s a timely caution in Sundays Aarons 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, Denny Hamlin can turn over his No. 11 Toyota to Brian Vickers without losing a lap.
Hamlin’s doctors cleared him to race this weekend, for the first time since sustaining a compression fracture of his first lumbar vertebra in a last-lap wreck at Fontana, Calif., in late March. Trying to minimize the risk to his continuing recovery, Hamlin plans to start the race and give way to Vickers.
In fact, Hamlin used a football analogy in comparing the risk for further injury to a quarterback taking a knee behind the line of scrimmage, deliberately ending the play before contact can occur.
“As far as the first lap, early-on wreck, it definitely can happen,” Hamlin said Friday after posting the seventh-fastest lap in opening NASCAR Sprint Cup practice. “We’ve seen it here at this race track on Lap 1, and we’ve seen it on the last lap. I’m obviously going to put myself in what I believe is a safe position.
“Obviously, you can’t help things like blown tires or whatever that could possibly happen, but like I said, I think the equivalency of our risks this weekend will be taking a knee.”
Vickers’ seat insert is in the No. 11 Camry this weekend, but Hamlin and Vickers are close enough in size to make that arrangement workable. Hamlin plans to exit the car through a roof hatch, with Vickers entering through the driver’s-side window.
Under caution, the drivers will have roughly three minutes to make the switch before losing a lap. When Hamlin and Vickers practiced the maneuver, they were much faster than that.
“It took us right at one minute every time that we rehearsed it, so we’re going to be plenty fine there,” Hamlin said. “Everything is pretty seamless.”