By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
TALLADEGA, Ala.--If there's a timely caution in Sundays Aarons 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, Denny Hamlin can turn over his No. 11 Toyota to Brian Vickers without losing a lap.
Hamlin's doctors cleared him to race this weekend, for the first time since sustaining a compression fracture of his first lumbar vertebra in a last-lap wreck at Fontana, Calif., in late March. Trying to minimize the risk to his continuing recovery, Hamlin plans to start the race and give way to Vickers.
In fact, Hamlin used a football analogy in comparing the risk for further injury to a quarterback taking a knee behind the line of scrimmage, deliberately ending the play before contact can occur.
"As far as the first lap, early-on wreck, it definitely can happen," Hamlin said Friday after posting the seventh-fastest lap in opening NASCAR Sprint Cup practice. "We've seen it here at this race track on Lap 1, and we've seen it on the last lap. I'm obviously going to put myself in what I believe is a safe position.
"Obviously, you can't help things like blown tires or whatever that could possibly happen, but like I said, I think the equivalency of our risks this weekend will be taking a knee."
Vickers' seat insert is in the No. 11 Camry this weekend, but Hamlin and Vickers are close enough in size to make that arrangement workable. Hamlin plans to exit the car through a roof hatch, with Vickers entering through the driver's-side window.
Under caution, the drivers will have roughly three minutes to make the switch before losing a lap. When Hamlin and Vickers practiced the maneuver, they were much faster than that.
"It took us right at one minute every time that we rehearsed it, so we're going to be plenty fine there," Hamlin said. "Everything is pretty seamless."
If you assumed that NASCAR racing was more easygoing to Travis Pastrana than some of the daredevil stunts he performs in the X-Games, you'd be wrong.
After winning the pole for Saturday's Aarons 312 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Talladega Superspeedway, Pastrana explained that there's no lack of an adrenaline rush in NASCAR racing. The difference lies in how long it lasts.
"To be perfectly honest, I came from motocross, (which) was a lot shorter races, but still 35 minutes, and everybody says, 'Well, you must be bored, or it's just driving around,'" Pastrana told the NASCAR Wire Service on Friday after running 176.500 mph to win the first pole of his NNS career. "This is a little different when you're by yourself for qualifying, but here, the whole time, You have a white-knuckle grip.
"I got tendinitis my first NASCAR race, because I was holding on so tight, and I got tendonitis in my elbow. I was white-knuckle gripping everything the whole time, so it feels like that intensity, only it goes on for two hours, and the cool thing about NASCAR is, when you get done, I can't even talk... You run a heart rate of 140, and you're just sitting there, so that's just pure adrenaline for that whole time."
Pastrana says his heart rate is likely to be higher than that on Saturday, even before he takes the green flag at the front of the field.
"When you have that much adrenaline, and you're that nervous, especially since I'm still so new to this, my heart rate is going to be 150 just coming to the line, leading the pack to the green flag," Pastrana said. "So I'm definitely excited, and its not hard to stay focused."
Should expectations for Danica Patrick be ramped up at Talladega, given that she's in same chassis she drove to the pole for the Daytona 500?
The answer, according to Patrick, is a simple yes and no.
"I suppose it's fair to say that there should be a little spike in expectations, but you also have to take into consideration on these big speedways that there is a whole lot of luck that comes into it," Patrick said Friday morning during an interview session behind her transporter.
"Everything has got to be clean. The (pit) stops have to be good. You have to stay in the pack--no issues, not getting caught up in an accident. From what I remember last year, at Talladega it was more of a pack race than Daytona even... Obviously, this is a wider track than Daytona, so when we start getting four-wide, thats when stuff starts to get a little exciting.
"Well just have to hope that we're in the right place at the right time."
With rain in the forecast for Saturday, Sprint Cup drivers vied to post fast laps in Friday's opening practice, given that the field will line up according to speed in first practice in case Saturday morning's time trials are washed out.
Carl Edwards led the session at 199.675 mph and would start on the pole in the event of a qualifying rainout. Patrick was 23rd quickest in the opening practice at 197.439 mph.