Denny Hamlin suffered a compression fracture in his lower spine during a last-lap crash while racing for the win against former teammate Joey Logano, and Joe Gibbs Racing gave no indication Monday how long its driver could be sidelined.
“I just want to go home,” Hamlin tweeted from a hospital in Southern California. He later posted a photo of himself giving a thumbs-up and appeared to be wearing a back brace.
The team said he had what is called an L1 compression fracture; essentially, the first vertebra in the lumbar section of his spine collapsed.
Hamlin was released from the hospital Monday night, and JGR said he’d return to North Carolina to be evaluated by Dr. Jerry Petty of Carolina Neurosurgery and Spine Associates. A reporter from USA Today spoke to Hamlin outside the hospital and reported Hamlin, wearing a back brace, walked out on his own.
NASCAR does not race this weekend, but returns to action April 7 at Martinsville Speedway, where Hamlin, who is 10th in the Sprint Cup standings, is a four-time winner.
Hamlin was airlifted from the Fontana track after a collision with Logano sent him nearly head-on into the inside wall in a place where Auto Club Speedway does not have energy-absorbing SAFER barriers. There are barriers on the inside of some of the walls, but portions of the track between Turns 1 and 2 and Turns 3 and 4 are not protected.
Track spokesman David Talley said Monday the SAFER barriers are installed upon NASCAR’s recommendation, and track officials will wait to see what, if anything, NASCAR recommends after Hamlin’s accident.
“NASCAR is reviewing the incident and any improvements that can be made, will be made,” Talley said. “If NASCAR feels that additional SAFER Barriers are needed, then we will absolutely make those enhancements. SAFER barrier recommendations are based on past history and this is a situation we, nor NASCAR has ever seen at this track before.”
IndyCar last year returned to Auto Club Speedway for the first time since 2005 and the season finale is scheduled to be held at the track in October.
But the issue of the SAFER barriers and Hamlin’s impact seemed to be overshadowed by the most recent flare-up in this new feud.
Logano managed to finish third despite wrecking into the outside wall after hitting Hamlin, who spun Logano last week at Bristol to spark a bitter post-race confrontation.
Because of the recent bickering between the former teammates, Logano was somewhat defiant after Sunday’s accident.
“He probably shouldn’t have done what he did last week, so that’s what he gets,” Logano said.
On Monday, Logano’s car owner said the driver was unaware of Hamlin’s condition when he made the comment during a television interview.
“That’s a tough thing, Joey had no idea what the situation was with Denny when he was doing the interview,” Roger Penske said. “It’s one of those things that came out and taken out of context isn’t what he meant. He can’t take it back, but people are certainly blowing that up to mean something different than what he knew at the time.”