Denny Hamlin set for Talladega return

Denny Hamlin will be back behind the wheel of his No.11 Toyota this Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

He’ll start the race, but beyond that is undetermined.

Joe Gibbs Racing stated Thursday night in a press release that, “Exact plans for this weekend will be determined by the team at Talladega.”

Hamlin, who has missed the past four Sprint Cup Series races after sustaining an L1 compression fracture to his vertebra in the March 24 race at Auto Club Speedway, posted on Twitter Tuesday morning that he has been cleared by doctors to take part in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499.

Brian Vickers, who has driven Hamlin’s No.11 for the past three races and was listed on the preliminary entry list as the driver of the No.11 for this weekend, is expected to take over driving duties for Hamlin after the first caution flag.

However, Vickers hasn’t been confirmed as Hamlin’s substitute by Joe Gibbs Racing.

No replacement was named by the team in Thursday night’s press release.

“I can not wait to get back in the car,” Hamlin posted on Twitter earlier in the week. “The smell of fuel and tires. Ahh.”

Hamlin’s plan was to come back for last weekend’s race at Richmond International Raceway,but was not cleared by doctors for that weekend.

“Obviously, my injury is very, very hard because there is no exact science to the risk,”said Hamlin at Richmond last weekend.

“Everyone is erring on the cautious side because no one ultimately wants to be responsible and have their name on the line of clearing a driver and then he goes out and gets hurt.”

NASCAR stated early Thursday that Hamlin had yet to be cleared for race competition and in order to start Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 he would have to take part in practice and qualifying sessions.

While Hamlin will collect points for the full 188 laps of Sunday’s race, his targeted full-race return is the May 11 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

However, Hamlin has yet to be cleared for Darlington race weekend. And, if he’s not cleared, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver will consider undergoing surgery.

“Obviously, if it goes past Darlington our chances are crushed even harder,” Hamlin said at Richmond.

“Eventually you have to have a shutdown point of not going out there and racing for nothing at a point. I think a recovery on the kind of surgery that I would like to have is about a month-and-a-half or so — I could potentially come back maybe for the tail end of the year.

“Eventually you have to know the point at which you’re looking at improbabilities of making the Chase and just being smart about it.”

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