Denny Hamlin gives a thumbs up from his hospital bed (Photo: Denny Hamlin)
By Mike Mulhern
Denny Hamlin's last lap crash Sunday afternoon aggravated a long-running back injury, his team reported Monday in a brief statement:
"Denny Hamlin suffered an L1 compression fracture following an accident on the final lap of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
"Hamlin hopes to be released today (Monday) to fly to his home in North Carolina where he will be evaluated by Dr. Jerry Petty of Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates later this week."
Hamlin was battling Joey Logano for the lead in the final two miles when they banged doors several times. Logano ended up in the outside wall, Hamlin in the inside wall.
The spot where Hamlin hit was one of the places on the track where there is no soft-walls SAFER barrier. Track officials say placement of such soft walls is under NASCAR's control.
NASCAR officials have planned a press conference Tuesday afternoon, and Hamlin's crash may be one of the topics under discussion.
Hamlin's back problems have hampered him over the last year or so. He sat out a race last summer rather than risk further aggravating his back.
Hamlin was airlifted Sunday to a local hospital, to avoid heavy post-race traffic.
It is not clear if Hamlin might need any surgery. The NASCAR tour has a week off for Easter, returning to action next week for the April 7th Martinsville 500, a race in which Hamlin would be heavily favored.
If Hamlin were to miss the Martinsville race, his team would earn no points with a substitute driver. That is an often criticized NASCAR rule, which forces injured drivers to attempt to race no matter how seriously injured.
When the helicopter takes off, that's not a good sign (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)