CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Denny Hamlin will be sidelined at least six weeks because of a fractured vertebra sustained in a last-lap crash at California.
Hamlin was evaluated Tuesday by Dr. Jerry Petty of Carolina Neurosurgery and Spine Associates. While it was determined Hamlin won’t need surgery, the L1 compression fracture in his lower back needs time to heal.
“Dr. Petty will make the determination when Hamlin will be able to return to racing this season,” Joe Gibbs Racing said in a statement.
While there was no official word from Hamlin in the statement, he tweeted: “I wish I got good news today.. I didn’t.”
Hamlin has made 264 consecutive Sprint Cup starts, 13th most among active drivers. He raced two weeks after undergoing knee surgery during an off week in 2010, and completed the race at Phoenix without a replacement driver despite obvious pain.
If he heals according to Petty’s estimated timeline, he’d only miss five races because NASCAR is off this weekend. But among the next five are stops at Martinsville and Richmond, where the Virginia-raised driver has a combined six wins. He also plays host to and competes in an annual charity race at RIR.
Joe Gibbs Racing said no decision has been made on a replacement for Hamlin.
NO PENALTIES: NASCAR chairman Brian France said Tuesday that the contact between Joey Logano and Hamlin as they battled for the win at California over the weekend was just the kind of throwback racing he expects out of his drivers and the new Gen-6 car.
“I have said repeatedly, every minute, that contact, especially late in the race when you are going for a win, that’s not only going to happen – that’s expected,” France said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “Both of them did exactly what I think you would do when you really, really want to win. Getting some contact, trying to race extra hard to win the race, that’s what we’re about.”
NASCAR said it won’t penalize Tony Stewart for scuffling with Logano after the race, and series officials saw nothing to indicate Logano or Hamlin were trying to intentionally wreck each other as they raced for the win.
Sprint Cup Series director John Darby said the confrontation didn’t escalate to a level where NASCAR had to take action.
“A few years ago we backed
away from micromanaging drivers’ emotions, you would hope in today’s world that if somebody didn’t win a race, they would be upset about it,” he said. “I don’t know that we’ve actually got a rule book that describes every push in the chest or kick in the shin. If two guys get into a helluva fight, we’re going to have to react. But a couple of guys blowing off some steam and slapping at the air is not going to get anybody in a whole lot of trouble.”
France noted that drivers are encouraged to show their emotion and settle disputes.
It remains to be seen where the Logano and Hamlin feud goes from here, although Sunday was viewed as a racing incident.