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NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin out at least 6 weeks

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Wednesday, Mar. 27, 2013

NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin will not require surgery but will be out at least six weeks to allow his back to heal.

Hamlin suffered a compression fracture of his L1 vertebra during a hard wreck on the last lap of Sunday’s Auto Club 400 Sprint Cup Series race in Fontana, Calif. His car slammed into a part of the wall not covered by energy-absorbing SAFER barriers.

He was diagnosed with the fracture at a California hospital but had a follow-up visit Tuesday in Charlotte with Dr. Jerry Petty of Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates.

“Dr. Petty determined that Hamlin will not require surgery but will need time to properly heal, which is estimated around six weeks time,” said a statement from Joe Gibbs Racing.

“Dr. Petty will make the determination when Hamlin will be able to return to racing.”

The move all but eliminates Hamlin from contention for this season’s Cup championship as drivers must at least start their car in each race to collect points.

If Hamlin sticks to the six-week timetable, he would miss five Cup races – at Martinsville, Va.; Texas; Kansas; Richmond, Va.; and Talladega, Ala.

This week is an off weekend for the series.

JGR said it has made no decision on who would replace Hamlin in the No. 11 Toyota. The organization has Brian Vickers and Elliott Sadler in its Nationwide Series program with extensive Cup experience.

Hamlin has made 264 consecutive Cup starts dating to the 2005 season and has won 22 races and 13 poles. He currently is 10th in points, 54 behind leader Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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