Denny Hamlin (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Denny Hamlin's championship hopes this season were dealt a serious blow Tuesday when doctors, after examining him, indicated he would likely have to sit out six weeks before returning to NASCAR action.
Hamlin, who has had back problems, reinjured his back in a crash Sunday at California's Auto Club Speedway.
Hamlin was evaluated by Dr. Jerry Petty of Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates after suffering an L1 Compression Fracture.
Dr. Petty said Hamlin will not require surgery but will need time to properly heal, estimated around six weeks.
Dr. Petty will make the determination when Hamlin will be able to return to racing this season.
No decision has been made on a replacement driver for Hamlin during his absence from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
The part of the wall that Hamlin hit Sunday was not protected by the soft-wall SAFER barrier, for some reason. NASCAR officials are responsible for telling tracks where to place the soft-walls.
Darrell Waltrip weighs in on the soft-wall issue, with intensity:
“Knowing what we know today about safety, there is no excuse for not having SAFER barriers all the way around every track.
"It would have made all the difference in the world for Hamlin at Fontana. That boy wouldn’t have a hurt back now if there were SAFER barriers in place there. He would have climbed out of the car and just been mad at Joey Logano over their wreck.
"But we all saw how violent Hamlin’s hit was -- that whole car came off the ground, much like happened to Elliott Sadler at Pocono a couple of years ago.
"We need a SAFER barrier anywhere a car can hit a wall because at 200 miles-per-hour, cars can go places you never dreamed of. So, why take that chance?
"With Jeff Gordon hitting the wall at Las Vegas, who would have thought a car could hit there? But cars can and will go anywhere, and we keep learning that lesson the hard way. If there is a wall around the track, it should be protected. Hamlin is proof of that."