Joe Gibbs Racing made the announcement Tuesday night that driver Denny Hamlin will be out of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota for at least six weeks. On the final lap of Sunday’s Auto Club 400, Hamlin and Joey Logano were battling for the lead when the two rubbed and bumped in turn 4.
While Kyle Busch made the pass, which ultimately led to victory, Hamlin went sliding down the banking and onto the apron, colliding head-on with the inside wall near the entrance of pit road. The hit was hard enough that all four tires left the ground before it slid to a stop at the entrance to pit road.
There was no SAFER Barrier installed where Hamlin had impacted.
Hamlin got out of the car and immediately lay on the pavement, and safety workers then loaded him into an ambulance to be taken to the infield care center, and then he was air lifted to a local hospital to be evaluated. He was released on Monday night, diagnosed with a collapsed L-1 vertebrate.
Hamlin mentioned that when he first got out of the car he had trouble breathing, which is why he laid down on pit road.
Tuesday, Hamlin was evaluated in Charlotte, NC, by Dr. Jerry Petty of Carolina Neurosurgery and Spine Associate, and said that Hamlin would not require surgery to repair his back, however will need at least six weeks to properly heal. Dr. Petty will make the final decision of when Hamlin will be able to return this season.
Hamlin has suffered an injured back before, as last season he suffered back spasms due to having both torn and bulging discs. It effected him to the point where he sat out the July Nationwide Series race at Daytona and most of the Sprint Cup practices for that weekend.
Unaware of the extent of the injury that Hamlin suffered, Logano said after the incident “He probably shouldn’t have done what he did last week, so that’s what he gets.” The two had an altercation the week prior at Bristol.
At this time, JGR has not announced who will fill in for Hamlin during his time out of the seat. NASCAR has off this weekend due to the Easter holiday, and will return to action at Martinsville Speedway on April 7. The driver that is the most possible to fill in at Martinsville is JGR Nationwide Series driver Elliott Sadler. Brian Vickers also is a logical substitute, however he is already slated to be driving the No. 55 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing.
Hamlin could return to racing would be Mother’s Day weekend, when NASCAR visits the Darlington Raceway for the Southern 500.
In a press release from Joe Gibbs Racing on Thursday, the team has elected to name veteran driver Mark Martin as the fill-in driver in the No. 11 FedEx Toyota while Hamlin heals from his collapsed vertebrate. Martin currently is running part-time with Michael Waltrip Racing in the No. 55, and was not slated to drive that car at Martinsville, as Brian Vickers was already listed as the driver.
Martin was to compete the next three races in the No. 55, but as of now there is no indication of who will be behind the wheel.
Martin, meanwhile, returns to Martinsville for the first time since going part-time with MWR, where he has two wins in 48 starts. The latest that Hamlin could return to the No. 11 Toyota, should the six-week recovery period take that estimated time, will be Mother’s Day weekend at Darlington.
Friday evening, Michael Waltrip Racing announced that Martin will fill-in for Hamlin at Martinsville, however the next weekend when NASCAR goes to Texas, Martin will be back behind the wheel of the No. 55 Toyota. According to the announcement, JGR and MWR could not come to an agreement so that Martin could fill-in for Hamlin at Texas, despite Martin already slated to be in the No. 55.
JGR said Thursday it preferred to have just one driver in the car for the time that Hamlin would miss, but now those plans change.
Gibbs does have both Elliott Sadler and Brian Vickers, the team’s Nationwide Series drivers, available beginning at Texas as the next four races following Martinsville both host Nationwide and Sprint Cup races on the same weekend. Vickers will drive teh No. 55 at Martinsville.