KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Denny Hamlin was right.
His hard crash at Kansas Speedway during Thursday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup test session — and two subsequent trips to the Infield Care Center — probably wouldn’t have attracted much attention if it hadn’t been for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
On Aug. 29, Earnhardt likewise suffered a similar hit at the 1.5-mile track. Earnhardt admitted later that he had suffered a concussion during the crash, and after another wreck Oct. 7 at Talladega — and another concussion — Earnhardt sought medical attention and ultimately was sidelined from competition for at least two weeks, forcing him to miss races at Charlotte and Kansas.
“If Dale Jr.’s incident wouldn’t have happened,” Hamlin told reporters outside the care center, “I don’t think any of y’all would be here.”
Hamlin lost control of his car in Turn 1 during the first hour of testing and slammed into the Turn 2 wall.
“It was the third lap on sticker (new) tires, and a little treacherous, and really, I just clipped the right rear on the outside wall on corner entry,” Hamlin said. “When I did, it just shot the car to the apron. I tried to correct and overcorrected got into the outside fence.”
Hamlin said he felt slightly dizzy after the wreck, and though he drove his No. 11 Toyota back to the garage, a NASCAR official examined the car, which was damaged beyond repair, and recommended a visit to the infield car center.
Hamlin complied, was examined and was instructed to return an hour later for follow-up. By the time Hamlin made his second visit to the care center, his symptoms had passed, and he was cleared to return to the track in a backup car.
“There were a couple of NASCAR officials that analyze the car after a wreck,” Hamlin said. “[A NASCAR official] looked at the car and said that it would probably be wise to go, after looking at the car. Obviously, the car’s destroyed pretty good.”
Fellow Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Clint Bowyer witnessed the wreck and testified to its magnitude.
“I was pulling on the race track and I saw him,” Bowyer said. “He was sideways way, way early, and I was trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Then I saw him get on the apron, and he was in trouble, man. He hit hard — real hard.”
Hamlin wouldn’t concede that his two visits to the doctors represented increased vigilance on NASCAR’s part in the aftermath of Earnhardt’s two concussions, but he couldn’t remember ever having been sent to the care center after driving back to the garage. This was the first time he had ever been asked to return to the care center for reevaluation.
“Just standard procedure, really — nothing different from than I’ve ever seen before,” Hamlin said after exiting the care center for the second time. “I was just slightly dizzy after the first hit. After that, just came back, and everything’s cleared right up. So it’s definitely good. I feel fine now…
“I talked to ‘em (the doctors), and they said they have reevaluations all the time. The reevaluate with me each wreck, through text messages, to ask how you’re doing and everything. But simply because of the speed of the impact, I think they were just trying to be safe and asking me how I felt, and I was honest with them and said I was a little dizzy.
“And they said, ‘Well, come back in an hour and make sure you’re OK.’… It was the first time I really had some dizziness after a hit. Usually, I’m sore, or your jaw hurts from clenching your jaw, things like that, but this was the first time I got really dizzy.”
The car Hamlin wrecked was the one he had intended to race in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas. Driving that same chassis, Hamlin won the second Chase race, Sept. 23 at New Hampshire, leading 193 of 300 laps in the process.
The backup car he’ll drive this weekend last raced in the Chase opener Sept. 16 at Chicagoland, where Hamlin ran near the front of the field all afternoon before running out of fuel and finishing 16th.
Denny Hamlin’s wreck wasn’t the only incident in an eventful test session. Casey Mears’ No. 13 Ford twice dropped oil on the track, forcing the Germain Racing team to abandon the test car and bring out the primary that will race on Sunday.
“Strange issue today,” Mears posted on his Twitter account. “Motor fine? Pumping oil out for some reason?”
As reporters were waiting for Hamlin after his second visit to the care center, the engine blew in Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet, again oiling the track, forcing the team to change power plants.
Because of the series of stoppages, NASCAR extended the test session an extra 25 minutes to 1:55 p.m. ET. Regan Smith, subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr., posted the fastest lap at 186.143 mph.
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