Denny Hamlin was back last weekend at that the Talladega Superspeedway, but gave way to a relief driver. Now back at one of his favorite tracks, Hamlin vows he will go the distance, in one of the first big tests for him after fracturing vertebra in his back, and will take the challenge that the Darlington Raceway provides.
“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 this race is tough because obviously we know you’re running right next to the wall and the margin for error is zero. So, it is. That was the one thing that I was actually worried about themost thinking about it last night was that, ‘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 maybe physical pains I have towards the end to keep our finishes good and obviously have a chance to win. Until we get to the end of the race, I don’t know, but I know running the hour and a half straight practice was a good test for me and I really at the end of it felt no worse for the wear. So, I think that if I can make it past this one — the whole race, have a good finish, maintain focus all the way through — then I’ll definitely be fine for the rest of the year,” Hamlin told reporters Friday from the Darlington Raceway.
Tackling two practice sessions right in a row Friday was a big first step for Hamlin, and he again reiterated that he will not give way to a relief driver.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt we’ll go the whole way. I stayed in the car for about an hour and a half straight with no issues during practice. Nothing was uncomfortable, nothing hurt or nothing was sore, so I’m pretty comfortable I can make it the three or three and a half hours that it’s going to take to run the race,” explained Hamlin.
In between talking about his comeback, Hamlin did touch on the fact that Ryan Newman was not fined for post-race comments, where he implied that NASCAR had their heads up their behinds. Not being fined did not come as a shock to Hamlin, nor was he upset with NASCAR’s decision in light of what he was fined earlier the year for comments about the new Generation 6 car.
“A lot of what me and Brian (France, NASCAR chairman) talked about in Las Vegas in our meeting was — he said, ‘Say whatever you want to about me. When we leave here, it’s just about the car and it’s about the racing.’ He said, ‘criticize the officiating all you want,’ which is something that other sports don’t allow, but it’s just — you can’t talk about the football or the basketball, that itself. It’s different, so I wasn’t surprised at all and a lot of people mentioned to me on Twitter about, ‘I bet Denny’s mad he (Ryan Newman) didn’t get fined.’ I’m okay with it. I think that they, in my opinion, they realized they kind of took it a little too far in my penalty, so you can’t just have a makeup call here in the game. I think that they’ve loosed up the reigns and realized that drivers are in the heat of the moment and Ryan just had a car flip right on top of him, so he’s mad for a lot of reasons, so I don’t think a penalty was warranted for Ryan. I think he got one years ago for probably something close to that, but they’ve said they’ve loosed up the reigns and obviously they have,” commented Hamlin.
Hamlin’s first big test back in a Sprint Cup Series car happens a little later on tonight when the running of the Bojangles’ Southern 500 gets underway at 7:30 PM EST on FOX.