by Jeff Gluck, USA TODAY Sports
FONTANA, Calif. -- Denny Hamlin has been diagnosed with a compression fracture in his lower back following a crash on the last lap of Sunday's Auto Club 400.
The compression fracture -- which occurs when a vertebrae in the spine collapses -- can occur in healthy people who suffer a vertical shock to the area.
Hamlin remained hospitalized near Auto Club Speedway on Monday, as he met with doctors to determine the extent of his injury. He wrecked while racing for the lead with rival Joey Logano, a former teammate who initiated the contact. Hamlin was airlifted to a hospital.
Austin Peyton, Hamlin's day-to-day business manager, told USA TODAY Sports that Hamlin is hoping to be released from the hospital today and fly home this afternoon to North Carolina for further evaluation by Dr. Jerry Petty of Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates later this week.
Hamlin is stable enough to return home, but Peyton said it is undetermined whether surgery will be needed or whether Hamlin might miss any races.
Hamlin has previously struggled with back problems; his father also has had a bad back, and Hamlin believes it's genetic. His back occasionally locks up, and he's undergone rehab and injections to try and make it better.
It's unclear whether the Fontana injury is connected to or exacerbated by Hamlin's existing back problems.
NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp told USA TODAY Sports the race incidents were under review.
IndyCar Series driver Will Power suffered a compression fracture in his back in the October 2011 crash that killed Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Power was cleared to return to the car for a test less than four weeks later.
NASCAR's top-tier series is off this week for Easter and returns April 7 at Martinsville Speedway.
Hamlin was joined at the hospital overnight by right-hand man Peyton and Peyton's girlfriend, Rachel Rupert (Miss Coors Light). Hamlin's parents and girlfriend, Jordan Fish, did not make the trip to Fontana for the race and remained in North Carolina. Hamlin has a two-month-old daughter with Fish.
On Monday afternoon, Hamlin tweeted: ''I just want to go home.'' He also tweeted a photo of himself giving the camera a thumb's up.
Hamlin, who started on the pole, and Logano battled side-by-side over the final few laps and were still clashing when Kyle Busch snuck by both on the high side for his first win of the season.
As Busch drove by, Logano drifted up into Hamlin and sent him toward the wall; Hamlin then had a violent collision with the inside retaining wall, where there was no SAFER barrier (or "soft wall") installed.
Auto Club Speedway spokesman David Talley said NASCAR is reviewing the incident and the track will comply with any recommendations made by NASCAR once the review is complete.
"This is something we have never seen here before - a car hitting in that spot - or obviously NASCAR would have recommended SAFER barriers be installed there," Talley said. "All SAFER barrier recommendations are based on past history."
Auto Club Speedway has SAFER barriers on the inside of some walls, but there is a 2000-foot section between Turns 1 and 2 and a similar section between Turns 3 and 4 that is not protected, he said.
NASCAR dictates "where they go and when they go in," Talley said.
"If additional SAFER barriers are needed in that area, we'll do that," he said.
After Sunday's race, Logano, who was unaware of Hamlin's injury at the time, told reporters: "After what happened last week, that's what (Hamlin) gets. We have nothing to hang our heads about, that's for sure."
The feud between Hamlin and Logano started at this season's Daytona 500, where Hamlin was unhappy with the way he claimed his former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate clogged traffic near the end of the race. In a Twitter message to Brad Keselowski, Hamlin referred to Logano as a "genius teammate."
Last week at Bristol Motor Speedway, Hamlin tapped Logano into a spin in Turn 2 while battling for second with 152 laps remaining. Logano went to Hamlin's No. 11 Toyota to confront him after the race before being separated by crewmembers.
"It's frustrating," Logano said. "We've got a freaking genius behind the wheel of the 11 car. Probably the worst teammate I've ever had. So I learn that now. He chose to run into the back of me. So whatever. I have a scorecard. I ain't putting up with that."
That escalated into a war of words on Twitter afterward with Logano writing, "Hey @dennyhamlingreat job protecting that genius brain of yours by keeping your helmet on." Hamlin responded with "Why's that ... what would u do?", prompting @joeylogano to reply "Show you some love and appreciation." Hamlin responded, "Need my address?" And then: "Last time I checked he had my cell and direct message button to choose from if he's got a problem ... Otherwise hush little child."
Though Hamlin showed slight remorse on Friday over some of his comments, Logano made it clear through short answers that the ill feelings aren't going away anytime soon.
The newfound rivalry carried over to Fontana, where Logano made it clear he was still angry despite Hamlin's expressed desire to move on.
Hamlin told reporters he regretted making a comment about Logano's ability to hang with him on the track, but Logano said he would race Hamlin "the way he raced me" and said there would be no resolution "until anyone says anything to me personally."