Denny Hamlin has been cleared by doctors to race at Talladega Superspeedway after missing four straight races due to a compression fracture in his lower back. Hamlin sustained the injury during a final-lap wreck in the Auto Club 400 in late March.
Since the major setback, Mark Martin and Brian Vickers have filled in for Joe Gibbs Racing. Martin drove the No. 11 FedEx Toyota at Martinsville before Vickers took the wheel for Texas, Kansas, and Richmond.
Martin finished in 10th place at Martinsville while Vickers followed with an eighth-place finish in the NRA 500 in Texas. The 29-year-old ended the streak of two straight top-ten performances by Hamlin’s replacements by finishing 31st at Kansas Motor Speedway.
Last week, Vickers ended his three-race stint with the No. 11 car at Richmond and couldn’t find a groove before crossing the finish line in 35th. While recovering from his lower-back injury, Hamlin fell to 28th in the Sprint Cup standings.
He will now return in hopes of climbing his way back into contention this weekend. Hamlin has never won at Talladega and his best finish at the historical track is 17th, coming in 2008 and again in 2010.
The 32-year-old from Tampa, Florida won five races last year for 22 in his career though he didn’t find the winner’s circle this season before the injury. Hamlin had a shot at the Auto Club 400 from the pole position before he battled with Joey Logano on the final lap and the two connected coming off the last corner.
He slammed into Logano and spun out before the No. 11 car came to a rest near the entrance to the pits. Kyle Bush took advantage of the battle and made a move on the high side to take the checkered flag.
Hamlin ended up in the hospital and was informed of the bad news that he would miss a few races. Since the wreck, Hamlin has kept involved with his team and regularly spent time in the pits with his crew chief Darian Grubb to give advice and encouragement to his replacements.
He won’t watch from the pits anymore as he’s now received medical clearance to race again. Hamlin couldn’t hold in his excitement and took to Twitter late Thursday night to share his good news by quoting a song from LL Cool J.
Don’t call it a comeback- LL cool J
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) May 2, 2013
NASCAR also took to Twitter to congratulate Hamlin on his return.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) May 3, 2013
Will Denny Hamlin return from injury with style and win the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega this weekend for the first time in his career? Can Hamlin climb back into contention in the Sprint Cup standings after missing the last four races?
[Image via Kim Phillips]