FONTANA, Calif.—Forget the light at the end of the tunnel.
As far as his physical well-being goes, Denny Hamlin already has emerged into open air.
A year ago at Auto Club Speedway, Hamlin suffered a compression fracture of his first lumbar vertebra in a last-lap collision. The wreck, triggered by contact from Joey Logano’s Ford, exacerbated a problem with bulging discs Hamlin already had.
Hamlin missed four races while the fracture healed and suffered four more bone-jarring crashes after he returned, at Dover, Kentucky, Daytona and Pocono.
But Hamlin returns to Fontana this year fit and ready to race.
“Physically, I feel really good, actually, the best I’ve felt back-wise in a really long time,” Hamlin said before Friday’s qualifying session at the two-mile track. “I mean years and years. I’m better than I was before the wreck, for sure. I had issues, degenerating disc issues that have plagued me for a long time, and the wreck obviously made that a lot worse.
“I’ve found things that help me through that now, and I hate to knock on wood and say cured me, but it’s really helped a lot. I’m past that part. Coming in here, I think the only time I thought about the wreck was the first corner going off in Turn 3 the first lap of practice where you kind of think about what happened and things like that. But, literally you’re running such speeds here and you’re on edge so much that the next time I came around it was an afterthought and I haven’t thought of it since.”
Similarly, Hamlin is trying to forget the incident with Logano.
“It was a bad weekend, for sure, and obviously affected the rest of our season and beyond,” Hamlin said. “It’s just you have to move on and you have to deal with the adversity and be stronger from it. That’s what I’m trying to do. …
“Really worrying about retaliating and holding grudges and things like that takes away from the time you need to be preparing for the upcoming event. Especially when you’re on the track, it’s hard enough to pass in these cars, so you have to concentrate in these cars at all times about what you’re going to do to run the best lap you can and not, ‘Hey I need to get to this guy or that guy to retaliate.’”
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