Denny Hamlin won't be able to return to racing at his hometown track after all.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who had hoped to rebound from a compression fracture in a lower back vertebra in time to compete this weekend at Richmond International Raceway, wrote Wednesday in a Twitter post that his comeback remains on hold.
"Unfortunately I won't be racing this weekend at Richmond," said the native of nearby Chesterfield, Va. "It kills me to not be in the car for my team and sponsors but after long discussions with the doctors we have decided to wait on my return back to racing. Thanks to all of my fans who have sent encouraging messages over the last month. I'll be back in no time."
Hamlin was injured March 24 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., when his car crashed head-on into an inside wall that did not feature the SAFER barrier. NASCAR has since said it will consult with experts to recommend potential changes to the facility in that area. The accident stemmed from final-lap contact with Joey Logano, whom Hamlin was racing for the victory.
Doctors initially projected a six-week recovery period for Hamlin, which meant he would be out until the May 11 event at Darlington Raceway. In an interview with reporters shortly after the accident, Hamlin spoke of hoping to return two weeks early at Richmond, where in addition to his success on the .75-mile track he also hosts an annual charity event, the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown presented by FedEx.
"I haven't even discussed it with them, because I don't want to freak out the doctors, trying to rush them, because I know they've got my best interests in mind," he said April 3. "But ultimately, every doctor I've spoken to has left it as a possibility that you could heal quicker than six weeks. It's possible. It's absolutely possible. They thought that six weeks was an aggressive comeback. But I think I'm going to be ready to go before that."
A scan this week squashed hopes of a return at Richmond, although didn't specify when he might come back. Last weekend at Kansas, he told reporters that he might start next weekend's event at Talladega Superspeedway before turning the car over to another driver, which would give him the points for the event.
Hamlin will still be in Richmond, serving as grand marshal for his charity race, which begins at 8:30 p.m. Thursday. He will also speak in the track's media center at 12:45 p.m., which will be streamed live at nascar.com/presspass. JGR teammate Matt Kenseth will pilot Hamlin's entry in the late model race, while regular Gibbs Nationwide Series driver Brian Vickers will continue to wheel the No. 11 Sprint Cup Series car until Hamlin returns.
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