Hamlin Completes Talladega Game Plan
By: Jeff Wackerlin - @JWackerlin on May 5, 2013 | 3:48 P.M. EST
The No. 11 team perform the driver exchange under the first caution. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
TALLADEGA, Ala. – Denny Hamlin did his part in returning to action in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
After running a handful of practice laps earlier in the weekend, Hamlin took the green flag in Sunday’s race to end his four-race absence from the series due to a back injury suffered at Auto Club Speedway in March.
Hamlin ran 23 laps until the race’s first caution before coming to pit road for a planned driver exchange that saw him use the roof hatch to exit with Brian Vickers climbing in the drivers-side window. That transition went smoothly and Hamlin was pleased that the first step in his comeback came off without a hitch.
“Everything went seamless and painless,” Hamlin said. “I feel good. Every week I feel a lot better. … It’s been months since I felt this good.”
Hamlin’s approach to Sunday’s race was simply to start the event and ride at the back of the field in order to play things on the safe side.
“I was enjoying it more than anything because it gave me something to do today,” Hamlin said. “I knew in my head that I wasn’t going to be competing today, I wasn’t going to be in the middle of the pack trying to make passes.
“It was all about going through the motions and getting the process of a comeback started. This is the first week of a comeback. This is going to be the start of everything. Anything that Brian gets us for points is strictly a bonus.”
Unfortunately for Vickers he got swept up in a 16-car crash on lap 42 that didn’t end his day but knocked him toward the bottom of the race results.
But even that didn’t dampen Hamlin’s spirits or his thankfulness for some fellow drivers who helped him out on Sunday including Tony Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya.
“They really sacrificed the first part of the race for me,” Hamlin said. “I can’t thank them enough.
“It means a lot as a driver to have your peers have your back like that. … Me and Tony, for whatever reason, when we stopped becoming teammates, we started becoming teammates. We’ve been closer off the racetrack and on the racetrack now that he’s with Stewart-Haas.”