NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin, left, talks with pit crew members after he was relieved by driver Brian Vickers on the first caution during the Aaron’s 499 auto race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala., last Sunday.
DARLINGTON, S.C. — Denny Hamlin doesn’t have a contingency plan for Darlington Raceway. He has every intention of running the entire race.
Hamlin turned 23 laps last week at Talladega before turning the car over to relief driver Brian Vickers. It was Hamlin’s first race since suffering a compression fracture in a vertebra in his lower back. The March 24 injury cost him four races.
Hamlin has no plans to have a driver on standby for Saturday night’s Southern 500.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt we’ll go the whole way,” said Hamlin, who tested himself by running 90 consecutive minutes during a long first practice Friday. “Nothing was uncomfortable, nothing hurt, nothing was sore. So I’m pretty confident I can make it the three, three and half (hours) that it’s going to take to run the race.”
Hamlin is determined to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship and currently sits 31st in the standings. But he’s only 76 points out of 20th place, where he’d need to be to be eligible for one of two wild-card berths.
He knows every run from here until Richmond in September needs to be nearly perfect, and figures Darlington is going to be one of the toughest tests.
After all, they don’t call it “The Track Too Tough To Tame” for nothing.
“It will be a challenge because this is one of the toughest, physically challenging races that we have — not only by distance, but the amount of mental focus that you have to have during the race is tough,” Hamlin said. “That was the one thing that I was actually worried about ... ‘Is my stamina going to be enough to make it?’ I’ll be able to make it physically, but it’s a matter of whether I can keep my mind engaged through whatever physical pains I have toward the end to keep our finish good.”
Hamlin said he plans to race in next week’s non-points All-Star Race, where the winner grabs a $1 million payday. Because the race doesn’t count for championship seeding, Hamlin could conceivably sit out for another week of rest.
But he said he’ll race as he always does next week at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“I want to win, so I’m going to do everything I can and be as aggressive as I would any other race,” Hamlin said. “Usually in the All-Star Race, the closer up front you are, the less out of trouble you are. So I’m going to try to do everything I can to be up front, and if not, it will just be a good test session weekend.
“If I didn’t feel like I was going to be 100 percent and be able to go for it with a lot of confidence, then I wouldn’t run it. But I was very encouraged after looking at the last scan that the progress that I’ve made, that they were comfortable that I could take a hit or there.”
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