SPARTA, Ky.—When Denny Hamlin clobbered the Turn 4 wall at Kentucky Speedway on Sunday, the first thought of most who watched had to be, “Oh, no, not the back.”
Fortunately, there was no basis for concern for the driver who had missed four races earlier this season because of a compression fracture of his first lumbar vertebra. The impact on Lap 147 of the Quaker State 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race was severe, and Hamlin was shaken up, but his back was fine.
Team owner Joe Gibbs visited Hamlin in the infield care center after the wreck. Hamlin was released shortly thereafter.
“I think our cars are so safe, and to show you, in 22 years, we’ve only had one person miss a race, and that was Denny, when he had the problem earlier this year,” Gibbs told the NASCAR Wire Service. “So to be quite truthful, I didn’t see it, so I was just going back, and I didn’t realize he hit that hard.
“And so when I got back there (to the garage), he said, ‘Man, I’ve got a headache, like you wouldn’t believe.’ And he banged his knee on the inside (of the car). Then we went to the care center, and right away, he said, “I started feeling better and better and better.”
On Monday, Hamlin plans to go ahead with a scheduled test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“They called the doctor over there, he’s going to take a look at him before he gets in the car, but I think we are in good shape there,” Gibbs said.
The wreck on Lap 147 wasn’t the only incident in which Denny Hamlin played a prominent role. Early in the race, he blew a right front tire, and as Hamlin drove slowly down the access road to pit lane, the casing separated from the tire and rolled onto the race track.
Polesitter Dale Earnhardt Jr., the race leader at the time, couldn’t avoid the tire carcass and damaged the nose and front splitter of his No. 88 Chevrolet. Led by crew chief Steve Letarte, his team spent the rest of the race trying to make the best of an unfortunately accident.
Though the handling of the car was affected adversely, Earnhardt came home 12th and solidified his sixth-place position in the series standings.
“The guys did a good job on pit road all day long working on it and trying to fix everything,” Earnhardt said after the race. “I’m not sure we got everything back where it is supposed to be, but we did well enough to get a decent finish out it – just proud of how hard the team worked.
“Did a good job for qualifying, and put a good car out there for the race. Can’t do anything about what happened out there on the race track with that casing. They worked hard on it to get it right, and get it good enough where we could run well. So, they deserve a lot of credit today.”