If Denny Hamlin Misses Any NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Races, Who Should Replace Him?

By Joseph Wolkin
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Denny Hamlin’s injury is the second bad injury that the sport has seen within a month. First, Michael Annett fractured and dislocated his sternum at Daytona. Now, Hamlin has a L1 Compression Fracture.

Hamlin’s injury was suffered on the last lap of the Auto Club 400 on Sunday where he was fighting for the win with his new rival, Joey Logano. Logano drove just a little too deep into the turn, collecting both cars as Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch, set off for Victory Lane. The accident knocked the wind out of Hamlin. When he jumped out of the car, he immediately fell to the ground and reasoned it for having trouble breathing. Hamlin also stated that he heard a pop in his back.

Now, Hamlin’s in big trouble. He’s going to be evaluated by Dr. Jerry Petty, the same doctor that evaluated Dale Earnhardt Jr. when he had his concussions last fall, later in the week. It’s unknown if Hamlin will miss any time or not, but another hard hit could probably land him with an injury that he doesn’t even want to think about.

The safest bet for Joe Gibbs Racing is to sit Hamlin out for the race at Martinsville no matter what his diagnosis is. Even if Dr. Petty says he can race, which is unlikely considering that vertebra fractures usually take three months to fully heal according to the Spine Institute of New York, it’s doubtful that he’ll race a full event for quite some time. Hamlin’s had injuries in the past which may also play a key role in what’s going to happen to him with this injury.

So, if Hamlin won’t be in the No. 11 car, who will be? Well, there are only really two options. The options are both Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, but in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Elliott Sadler and Brian Vickers would be the only two drivers to race the No. 11 car besides Hamlin. However, the upper hand will likely go to Sadler.

Sadler will be racing a No. 81 car for Joe Gibbs Racing in three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races throughout the season as it is and is under serious consideration to be a fourth driver for the team’s program. It would be a popular move by the team as fans have been wanting to see Sadler get a chance for several years now.

Meanwhile, if Hamlin’s out for quite a while, the team could go with Vickers for a few races. Yet, it’s unlikely considering he’s already driving a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car for Michael Waltrip Racing in several events this year and will probably be full-time with them next season. From the looks of the injury, Hamlin will probably be out for at least one or two races and if he’s not out, than he’ll probably have a relief driver.

Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR and reached via e-mail at Joseph.Wolkin@gmail.com.

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