2013 Bojangles' Southern 500: Denny Hamlin finishes second in return from broken back

USA TODAY Sports

In his first full race since breaking his back, Denny Hamlin finished runner-up in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Even for a driver who is completely healthy, Darlington Raceway can be a challenge, as the 1.3-mile oval is one of the more physically demanding tracks in all of NASCAR.

Yet there was Denny Hamlin in his first full race since sustaining an L1 compression fracture, and with a back that he says is in the same shape as a 60-year-old man's, finishing second in the Southern 500.

"I'm sore and I'm tired," Hamlin said. "But, you know, it just takes a while. Really it's like starting your season over with. To start it back over at Darlington for 500 miles, I mean, there's some muscles that have gotten weak. I've gotten pretty sore and tired, mentally tired as well."

Despite the pain, after missing four races and part of another, being back in the car was all that mattered to Hamlin.

He was happy to return, and was so confident his back could withstand the rigors of racing at Darlington that there was no relief driver standing by in case he couldn't make it to the finish.

And as much as Hamlin missed being in the car, his team missed him more.

In their driver's absence, the No. 11 team's best finish was eighth, and they had been involved in crashes in each of the previous three weeks.

"It feels good to just be competitive again," Hamlin said. "Watching the races from the sidelines for really five weeks, it's tough. You know you can change things. You can do things to change your outcome. But you're not in the racecar."

The biggest issue Hamlin experienced Saturday night wasn't necessarily his back. Rather, it was the stamina of withstanding 500 miles on a bumpy track that challenges both the body and mind.

"My back held up good," Hamlin said. "I'm more sore, shoulders, neck, things like that. I got to get back in racing shape. It will take time to get back to where I need to be.

"For us, it was good. I definitely didn't feel any back pain. It was just more stamina that I had issues with."

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