Denny Hamlin has experienced back problems for years, but the ones that sidelined him this week mark a new area of concern.
Hamlin is sitting out the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice sessions this weekend and skipping the Nationwide Series race due to back spasms triggered in last week's Kentucky Speedway event. Hamlin also has torn and bulging disks in his back, he told reporters on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.
"Any other racetrack, I'd be on track at this point," Hamlin said. "But I've made such decent progress, you don't want to give that up by getting in a wreck and then jeopardizing being able to start the Cup race."
Hamlin's back always bothers him after any sort of physical activity, he said – even running – and he's been dealing with back spasms since 2008.
But after Kentucky, his back tightened up and was the worst it's been. By the time he sat down for dinner on the night after Kentucky, his back was in such bad shape that he couldn't stand up from the table.
"With spasms...anything can set it off," he said. "Obviously, the most risk of having an accident in practice would be on a superspeedway. The likelihood of me getting in an accident in the Nationwide race would be high as well.
"Those are all things that would trigger going backward from everything I've gained this week. So that's the reason. ... Just wanted to minimize risk, that's all."
Hamlin said he and his doctors will change his training routine to include strength-building exercises for his back. In the meantime, he'll have to put reduce the time spent on two of his favorite activities: Basketball and golf.
"For a little while, I'll definitely have to tame it down," he said. "The goal right now is to get everything stronger first before I go back to doing those things."
Doctors told Hamlin he won't need surgery until "years down the road" and that physical therapy should take care of the problem.
Joe Gibbs Racing doesn't plan to have a relief driver on standby for Saturday night.