Jimmie Johnson: 'Drive it in till you see Elvis' (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
One day after a hard hit here, Denny Hamlin climbed back in his backup car and resumed his championship bid, looking ahead to Sunday's Kansas 400, Round Six of the 10-race playoffs.
"Feel 100 percent today," Hamlin said.
"Thought I was good yesterday...and then obviously I got better with every hour. But today, after waking up, I'm 100 percent and good to go."
Hmmmmm, however, in light of what title rival Jeff Gordon said only last week, after teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. revealed two concussions in the past six weeks, just what to make of Hamlin's situation here?
He certainly looks okay.
But then so did Earnhardt, who ran the next six races -- Atlanta, Richmond, Chicago, New Hampshire, Dover and Talladega -- after his August 29th concussion-crash in testing here.
Then Earnhardt had a relatively light 20G crash at Talladega, which nevertheless left him with another concussion, which has sidelined him.
Earnhardt lost any shot at the title when he in effect sidelined himself before the Charlotte race.
Kasey Kahne: cool at speed (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Drivers here to a man are breathless about the speeds. Kasey Kahne won the pole for Sunday's Kansas 400 at a record 191.360 mph, and Mark Martin will be on the outside of the front row for the 2 p.m. ET/1 p.m.CT start. Drivers reported hitting as much as 204 mph entering the corners.
Doctors say that usually the only way to tell if a driver has had a concussion is if he complains of headaches.
Earnhardt could thus have continued racing if he'd just kept his mouth shut.
Of course concussions are cumulative, and Earnhardt could certainly have done even more damage to his brain by continuing to race.
NASCAR and track doctors didn't even examine Earnhardt after those two concussions, raising red flags.
So NASCAR officials were more on the ball here, getting Hamlin twice to the infield doctors for check-ups.
However there have apparently been no MRIs or detailed hospital examinations. And so all anyone apparently has to go on is what Hamlin actually tells them.
Greg Biffle: fastest car in practice, 200 mph at start-finish line (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jeff Gordon, would you 'fess up to NASCAR and the doctors if you'd hit your head hard and had headaches and yet were in the championship hunt?
"No. Honestly -- I hate to say this -- but no, I wouldn't.
"If I have a shot at the championship, two races to go, my head is hurting, and I just came through a wreck, and I am feeling signs of it, but I'm still leading the points, or second in the points, I'm not going to say anything. I’m sorry.
"That is the competitor in me... that's to a fault.
"That's not the way it should be. That is what gets a lot of us in trouble."
And Gordon of course has been extremely safety conscious through his career. He points to his former crew chief Ray Evernham as a driving factor:
"Ray had experienced some pretty horrendous crashes in his career, and some major concussions that really ended his driving career.
"Because of those combinations, we as a team put a lot of effort into safety. A lot of time we were leading the way on seats and how they are mounted in the car. Seat belts...shoulder support...head support.
"It's so much safer now.
The casino...and some drivers may not like the odds in Sunday's 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
"But it doesn't mean that it is still not a dangerous sport," Gordon went on.
"I've hit my head really hard many times. Never have been knocked unconscious but I've probably still had a concussion.
"As long as I feel fine going into the weekend, and don't have any headaches, and feel I'm driving the car to the best of my ability, then I feel like I’m fine.
"I'm not saying that is correct.
"We're getting into it in other sports (the issue of concussions), and we'll probably get into it a little bit more now in ours."
One big issue, Gordon concedes, is that after one concussion the next one doesn't have to be very dramatic at all to be very dangerous:
"It could be a small impact that could be very damaging."
AJ Allmendinger: back in the saddle again (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
And now Denny Hamlin...on a track that's just been repaved, a track with plenty of grip, and speed that Tony Stewart calls "stupid fast," that Marcos Ambrose says seems even "faster than Michigan," where Ambrose qualified in the summer at 203 mph.
Hamlin brushes off the questions, and he insists "Really it's just business as usual for the weekend.
"We really haven't lost too much, and I feel we're up to speed.
"We're not racing that car that we would have liked to have raced; but this car was going to be our Texas car anyway. So it's really not a bad car."
Speed is amazing here: 200 mph at the start-finish line, 204 mph or more into turn one.
"We're all high-fiving each other after qualifying because we're glad we got back here alive," Kyle Busch cracked after his run.
Denny Hamlin (L) and crew chief Darian Grubb (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Hamlin says the 400 "will be extreme track position-sensitive."
"You just hope you have the right strategy at the end of the day to keep your car up front," Hamlin says. "If you don't, passing will be very tough.
"It's definitely tougher to control your own destiny. You don't look forward to it because as a driver you're like, 'Hope my guy on top of the box is smarter than the rest of the guys.'
"Darian Grubb (his crew chief) is going to be the biggest factor in where we finish this weekend."
And Hamlin says Sunday's game plan for drivers is simple: "Just don't mess up... more than going out there and attacking."
Another fuel mileage finish?
Maybe so, maybe so.
Hamlin and the rest of these have certainly had enough practice at that this season. "We just ran the last 120 laps (at Charlotte) in
'fuel-save' mode.... because there just aren't any cautions anymore.
"This is just a different kind of racing. With all these tracks getting repaved, this is just what you're going to have for years and years, until something really changes with the cars or the tires."