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Mar 22, 2014 - 04:48 PM
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· 2014 Fontana (California): NASCAR Sprint Cup Qualifying Results - Kenseth, Toyota On Pole! (Mar 21, 2014)
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· 2014 Fontana (California): NASCAR Sprint Cup Practice One Results - Johnson, Chevrolet Fastest! (Mar 21, 2014)

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Denny Hamlin Feeling Positively Chipper For Fontana Return
Posted by: ASkyler on Mar 22, 2014 - 04:48 PM
Feature Articles
Denny Hamlin Feeling Positively Chipper For Fontana Return

By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

FONTANA, Calif.—Forget the light at the end of the tunnel.

As far as his physical well-being goes, Denny Hamlin already has emerged into open air.

A year ago at Auto Club Speedway, Hamlin suffered a compression fracture of his first lumbar vertebra in a last-lap collision. The wreck, triggered by contact from Joey Logano’s Ford, exacerbated a problem with bulging discs Hamlin already had.

Hamlin missed four races while the fracture healed and suffered four more bone-jarring crashes after he returned, at Dover, Kentucky, Daytona and Pocono.

But Hamlin returns to Fontana this year fit and ready to race.

"Physically, I feel really good, actually, the best I’ve felt back-wise in a really long time," Hamlin said before Friday’s qualifying session at the two-mile track. "I mean years and years. I’m better than I was before the wreck, for sure. I had issues, degenerating disc issues that have plagued me for a long time, and the wreck obviously made that a lot worse.

"I’ve found things that help me through that now, and I hate to knock on wood and say cured me, but it’s really helped a lot. I’m past that part. Coming in here, I think the only time I thought about the wreck was the first corner going off in Turn 3 the first lap of practice where you kind of think about what happened and things like that. But, literally you’re running such speeds here and you’re on edge so much that the next time I came around it was an afterthought and I haven’t thought of it since."


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Similarly, Hamlin is trying to forget the incident with Logano.

"It was a bad weekend, for sure, and obviously affected the rest of our season and beyond," Hamlin said. "It’s just you have to move on and you have to deal with the adversity and be stronger from it. That’s what I’m trying to do. ...

"Really worrying about retaliating and holding grudges and things like that takes away from the time you need to be preparing for the upcoming event. Especially when you’re on the track, it’s hard enough to pass in these cars, so you have to concentrate in these cars at all times about what you’re going to do to run the best lap you can and not, ‘Hey I need to get to this guy or that guy to retaliate.’"


If something could go wrong for Martin Truex Jr. this year, it already has, and the streak of rotten luck continued Saturday at Auto Club Speedway.

Eight laps into a planned 10-lap run during the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice session of the day, the left rear tire on Truex’s No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet exploded. The resulting impact with the Turn 2 wall damaged the car severely enough to force the team to a backup machine.

After qualifying on the outside of the front row for the Feb. 23 Daytona 500, Truex was collected on the last lap of his Budweiser Duel 150-mile qualifying race. The car came to rest in the tri-oval grass, spewing flames, and Truex had to start NASCAR’s most prestigious race from the rear of the field in a backup car.

That was the first time, Truex said, he had ever had to use a backup car in the Sprint Cup Series. In the race itself, Truex retired with a blown engine.

In his first year with Furniture Row, Truex has a best finish of 14th at Las Vegas, and the wreck at Fontana only added to his misery.

"I hate it for the team, because we had a good race car there, and it’s been a really tough start to the year for us, with a lot of these types of things happening to us," Truex said. "It’s unfortunate.

"The good news is, hopefully the bad luck’s out of the way for this weekend. We’ve got to start in the back, but hopefully we won’t finish in the back."

On Twitter, Truex summed up his feelings in a single word. "Unbelievable...," he wrote.

Truex wasn’t the only driver, however, who had issues with the left rear tire. Both Joey Logano and Penske teammate Brad Keselowski suffered flat left rears—Keselowski twice.

The combination of a taller spoiler (increasing downforce) and more latitude with rear camber had every crew chief in the Cup garage paying close attention to left rear tire wear, as final practice progressed later in the afternoon.


Kevin Harvick paced Saturday’s first practice with a lap at 186.018 mph. Brian Vickers was fastest in Happy Hour at 185.926 mph, in a session that saw Joey Logano smack the outside wall after blowing a left front tire.

Logano’s team rolled out a backup No. 22 Ford with roughly 12 minutes left in final practice, but Logano will have to give up his seventh-place position on the grid start from the rear in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 with no time on the track for the backup car.

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