Hamlin Cleared to Return
By: Jeff Wackerlin - @JWackerlin Twitter and Instagram | MRN.com on May 2, 2013 | 8:19 P.M. EST
Exact plans for this weekend will be determined by the team at Talladega. (Photo: Getty Images)
TALLADEGA, Ala. - Denny Hamlin has received medical clearance to return to on-track activity beginning with this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Hamlin suffered an L1 compression fracture of the lower back March 24 in a last-lap accident at Auto Club Speedway and has missed the past four races while recovering.
The Joe Gibbs Racing team will determine exact plans for this weekend at Talladega, but Hamlin needs to practice and qualify in order to race on Sunday according to NASCAR.
The final clearance came late Thursday and ended two days of speculation after Hamlin tweeted on April 30 - "I cannot wait to get back in car. The smell of fuel and tires ... Ahhh."
But NASCAR needed to sign off on Hamlin’s medical clearance before he could compete in this weekend’s race at the 2.66-mile Alabama oval.
Hamlin had hoped to return last weekend at Richmond International Raceway but was not able to, and Brian Vickers again piloted the No. 11 FedEx Toyota. After meeting with his medical team, Hamlin felt confident he would get the OK to at least start the race this weekend at Talladega.
"They all came to the conclusion they were happy with me starting Talladega and getting out when it's a safe time to get out," Hamlin said last week in Richmond.
By NASCAR rules, Hamlin need only start Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 to receive points even if a relief driver - Brian Vickers - takes over at some point during the race.
Hamlin is 28th in the standings, 126 points behind 10th and 71 points behind 20th with nine races in the book. Should he not race his way inside the top 10 to secure a Chase berth, Hamlin could make the playoffs as a Wild Card. But he’ll need to be in the top 20 in the standings and be one of the two drivers with the most wins to make the Chase.
In the first restrictor-plate race for the Gen-6 car - the Daytona 500 - Hamlin led 33 laps en route to a 14th-place finish.