NASCAR officials would clear Denny Hamlin to start Sunday's race at Talladega Superspeedway if rain washes out qualifying.
Officials will require Hamlin to run practice laps Friday, weather permitting, before he's fully cleared for the Aaron's 499 Sunday. Practice could determine the starting order if qualifying in canceled.
Qualifying lap speed determines the order in which cars start the race, but heavy rain is in the forecast Saturday, when Hamlin was to participate in a race event for the first time since fracturing his back in March.
Even if weather forces the cancellation of Saturday's session, Hamlin wouldn't get a "did not qualify" designation and would be permitted to start the race as planned.
Hamlin will return for the first time since suffering a compression fracture in his lower back on the final lap of the March 24 event at Auto Club Speedway in California. Additional medical testing will be required before Hamlin is cleared for future races and his full-time return to the
By starting, Hamlin will collect all the Sprint Cup points for whatever finish backup Brian Vickers earns. The plan entering the race is for Vickers to replace Hamlin during the race's first caution.
Hamlin has fallen to 28th in points in missing five consecutive races. He needs at least 71 points to be eligible for one of two wild card spots determined by drivers inside the top 20 with the most wins.