NASCAR making sure Hamlin fires on all cylinders

Concerns over concussions draw attention to Cup contender after wreck during testing at newly repaved Kansas Speedway

Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012

Denny Hamlin understands why NASCAR was so concerned about the hit he took during a crash earlier this week at Kansas Speedway.

The accident – Hamlin’s Toyota tagged the wall while testing the speedway’s newly repaved track Thursday – left Hamlin feeling dizzy and disoriented. Hamlin was ruled OK by doctors and was cleared to race in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400.

But Hamlin’s crash got NASCAR’s attention, especially after Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s doctor advised him to sit out last week’s race at Charlotte and this weekend at Kansas due to two concussions he’d recently sustained.

So Hamlin has been hearing from NASCAR quite a bit over the last few days.

“They’re persistent,” said Hamlin, who starts ninth Sunday. “They’re calling and texting you before you even wake up, wanting to check up on you. They do it all the time.

“Really, in all types of wrecks I’ve been a part of this year, it’s been the next day and the following day that they continue to check up on you to make sure you’re feeling OK.”

A week after many drivers applauded Earnhardt for his decision to sit for two weeks, another issue had cropped up: Whether an injured driver who is in the running for a championship – as Hamlin is – would take the same step if he thought he was OK.

Jeff Gordon admitted at Charlotte last weekend that he didn’t think he could do that. Hamlin said he trusts whatever medical procedures would be in place.

“There’s no doubt that you would do whatever it took to stay in your car if you were in a championship battle,” said Hamlin, who is third in points, 15 behind leader Brad Keselowski. “But one thing you can’t hide is the signs that you are not right. You can say you’re good and everything, but if you don’t pass the tests they put out there for you, you’re not going to get the opportunity to be in your car.

“There are enough things in place that they make sure there are safe drivers out there. Honestly, the competitor in you can fire on all cylinders. But if you’re not right, you’re not right.”

The major casualty in Hamlin’s crash was his car, which was the same one he drove to a victory in a Chase race at New Hampshire in September. Hamlin got into the backup car (which he was planning on driving in the Texas race in two weeks) for about an hour on Thursday, then qualified with it Friday.

Sunday, it will be time to figure out Kansas’ new surface again. It was extremely fast during Friday’s qualifying in cool temperatures (with every car breaking the old track record), then slower in Saturday’s practices when things warmed up.

“It feels totally different than any other track we race on all year long,” said Hamlin, who has five victories this season. “I look at our setup and it’s unlike anything we run at other tracks. I think this is a one-off type race that just happens to be in the Chase. So you’d better perform on it.”

Scott: 705-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14

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