Denny Hamlin’s Sprint Cup season will be officially interrupted. After an evaluation by Dr. Jerry Petty, in North Carolina Tuesday Joe Gibbs Racing announced Hamlin will be on the sidelines for at least six weeks with an L1 compression fracture of his back. While the driver won’t require surgery, the risks involved with racing with this type of injury were too high for him to be medically cleared.
“I wish I got good news today,” he tweeted. “I didn’t. If me getting back in a car was based on pain tolerance then I would be in the car next week. There’s just more to it that I can’t control.”
Hamlin will miss at least five races: Martinsville, Texas, Kansas, Richmond and Talladega before making a potential return at Darlington May 11th. If he adheres to that schedule, based on the way points have been scored in 2013 to date he’ll be an estimated 137 points outside the top 10 upon his return. That would put Hamlin in the position of winning multiple times just to contend for a postseason spot he’s made every year since entering the Cup Series in 2006. Still, he’ll be an estimated 91 points behind the top 20 which would make even that avenue almost impossible.
Joey Logano, who has been silent on Twitter since Sunday’s race expressed regret about postrace comments in which he said “That’s what he gets” without knowing Hamlin was seriously hurt. “The last thing I wanted to hear was that [Hamlin] was in the hospital,” he told USA Today Sports. “[I’m] hoping for a speedy recovery.”
Sources have told the Frontstretch Elliott Sadler has been chosen as the primary sub for Denny Hamlin. All that’s preventing an official announcement, at this point is a few details to work out with sponsor Fed Ex. Sadler, who was long pegged as the likely choice is driving full-time for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Nationwide Series and was scheduled to drive a fourth Cup car in a limited schedule later this season. That Cup announcement has been put on hold due to Hamlin’s injury; ironically, Sadler’s expected fill-in role will serve as an extended audition.
Sadler has been runner-up in the Nationwide Series championship the last two seasons after taking a step down from Cup competition. In 430 career Cup starts, beginning in 1998 he’s won three times, collected 19 top-5 finishes, 69 top 10s and eight pole positions. His last start was in the 2012 Daytona 500, running 27th after being at the epicenter of a multi-car wreck early on that wiped out several contenders. Michael Waltrip Racing had hired him for a limited schedule after that, but Richard Childress and Chevrolet, his employers at the time blocked that due to manufacturer conflicts. That put current teammate Brian Vickers in that seat, which now opens the door for Sadler on this side (Vickers will drive for MWR in Martinsville in two weeks).
There are no conflicts on the Nationwide schedule that would affect Sadler until early June.
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