It didn't go quite as planned, but Denny Hamlin did his part in making his brief return to the Sprint Cup Series in Sunday's race at Talladega. Hamlin started the race and got out of his No. 11 Toyota at the first caution, giving way to driver Brian Vickers. Vickers, however, was caught up in a multi-car accident shortly thereafter. Hamlin talked about his first race back since injuring his back in March.
Q: How was it out on the race track? Hamlin: "It was good. I got to thank all of the drivers -- (Juan Pablo) Montoya and (Tony) Stewart and Michael (Waltrip) and (Ricky) Stenhouse that really sacrificed the first part of the race for me and I can't thank them enough. It means a lot as a driver to have your peers that have got your back like that."
Q: How did the driver exchange go for you and Brian Vickers? Hamlin: "The exchange went great. Really, that was about as smooth as it's went for us. Obviously we've had a few repetitions at it. That was about the quickest that I was able to get out so everything went well. I had a checklist in the car with things that I needed to do before I got out to switch over for the next driver. Everything really went seamless and painless."
Q: How do you feel physically? Hamlin: "I feel good. Every week I feel a lot better and really this is the best I've felt physically in, gosh, months since I felt this good. So, I'm definitely looking forward to going back to full competition next week."
Q: Were you worried about when the caution was going to come? Hamlin: "I didn't mind that part of it. Even if we had to pit for fuel we would've gone ahead and done that and just waited for the first caution whether it had been lap 20 or 120, we were going to do it at a caution. Luckily we wanted to be five to six seconds behind the pack and we were. Everything kind of worked out ideally how you would want it to."
Q: Were you anxious getting back in the car today? Hamlin: "Yeah, for me the toughest part of every weekend has been watching the cars go off the starting grid and on to the race track for the green flag. I didn't have to endure that pain this time around, but it is just tough now just having to watch especially this type of racing where it's so circumstantial."
Q: How did the deal with Tony Stewart come about? Hamlin: "Tony (Stewart) actually approached me at my charity event last weekend (in Richmond) and said I want to work with you depending on what your plan is for Talladega. Me and Tony for whatever reason when we stopped becoming teammates, we started becoming teammates. We've been closer off the race track and on the race track now that he's with Stewart-Haas than ever when we were with (Joe) Gibbs (Racing). We've got a great relationship and he's had my back really for the last three years."
Q: Was it hard knowing you were going to have to drop back and then get out of the car? Hamlin: "I was enjoying it more than anything because it gave me something to do today. I knew in my head that I wasn't going to be competing today. I wasn't going to be in the middle of the pack trying to make passes. It was all about just going through the motions and getting the process of making a comeback -- getting that started. This is the first week of a comeback. This is going to be the start of everything so anything that Brian (Vickers) gets us for points today is strictly a bonus and we're going to start next week in Darlington with our hairs on fire."