Talladega, AL (Sports Network) - Denny Hamlin competed in a Sprint Cup Series
race for the first time on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway since he suffered
a serious back injury during an accident six weeks ago at Auto Club Speedway
in Fontana, Calif.
Hamlin ran the first 23 laps under green at Talladega before the first caution
came on lap 24 when fluid from Trevor Bayne's expired engine dropped on the
track. Hamlin pitted on the following lap and made the driver exchange with
Brian Vickers in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. The driver exchange took
slightly more than 1 minute, as Vickers was able to keep the No. 11 car on the
lead lap. He ran in the 36th position for the restart on lap 29.
"The exchange went great," Hamlin said. "That was about as smooth as it
could've been for us. I was able to get out, and everything went well.
Obviously, we've had a few repetitions at it. I had a checklist in the car
with things that I needed to do before I got out to switch over for the next
driver. Everything went seamless and painless."
Starting seventh due to qualifying being rained out on Saturday, Hamlin
quickly dropped back to the tail end of the field. He played it safe in hopes
of not being caught up in a major wreck had it happened in the early going.
Tony Stewart, Michael Waltrip, Juan Pablo Montoya and rookie Ricky Stenhouse
Jr. were those drivers who rode in the back with Hamlin to offer him drafting
"I can't thank them enough," Hamlin said. "It means a lot as a driver to have
your peers that have got your back like that."
Hamlin had missed the last four races -- Martinsville, Texas, Kansas and
Richmond -- after he was diagnosed with a compression fracture in his lower
back from his accident in Fontana. He plans to run the full distance in next
Saturday's 500-mile race at Darlington.
Vickers time in the car was short-lived, though, when he was involved in "the
big one" -- a 16-car accident -- that occurred in turn 1 on lap 42. He spent
more than 40 laps in the garage for repairs before returning to the track.
Vickers had moved into the top-10 before the incident happened.
The major wreck was caused when Kyle Busch nudged Kasey Kahne from behind and
put him into the outside wall while they were running in a tight pack of cars.
Kevin Harvick, who won last weekend's race at Richmond, and Greg Biffle
suffered damage to their cars as well.
After 124 laps, rain began falling on this 2.66-mile superspeedway for the
third caution. NASCAR displayed the red flag one lap later to stop the race as
the rain had intensified.
The Sports Network