Hamlin out at least 5 races with back injury

Jeff Gross

A compression fracture in his lower back will force Denny Hamlin to miss a minimum of five NASCAR races.

Denny Hamlin will miss a minimum of six weeks due to a L1 compression fracture in his back, an injury which he suffered Sunday in a violent last-lap crash at Auto Club Speedway.

The news comes following Hamlin's meeting with Dr. Jerry Petty on Tuesday, who determined that Hamlin would not need surgery but would have to allow time for his back heal 100 percent.

"Dr. Petty determined that Hamlin will not require surgery, but will need time to properly heal, which is estimated around six weeks time," Joe Gibbs Racing said in a statement. "Dr. Petty will make the determination when Hamlin will be able to return to racing this season."

Hamlin will miss the races at Martinsville, Texas, Kansas, Richmond and Talladega, with the earliest possible return the Southern 500 at Darlington on May 11.

Missing Martinsville and Richmond is particularly tough for Hamlin, as they are in his home state of Virginia and two tracks where he has excelled throughout his career winning a combined six races.

Since moving to Cup full-time in 2006 Hamlin has never missed the Chase and had started 264 consecutive races.

While it won't be impossible for Hamlin to qualify for the Chase this season, the odds will be long and the only hope he will have to do so is by claiming one of two wildcard spots.

For him to make the Chase via a wildcard, Hamlin would have to finish in the top 20 in points and would have to win one and most likely two races to do so.

For comparisons sake, last year Mark Martin skipped nine races during the regular season and was 26th overall, 148 points behind 20th-place Jamie McMurray.

It would be a long-shot but it is doable for Hamlin to pull this off considering he won five races a year ago and has been in contention in every race this season with near-wins at Phoenix and Fontana.

Although racing hurt is nothing new for Hamlin, who competed with a torn ACL and won at Texas just days before reconstructive surgery, it wasn't an option this time around.

"If me getting back in a car was based on pain tolerance then I would be in the car next week," Hamlin tweeted Tuesday night. "There's just more to it that I can't control."

JGR has not yet announced who will drive the No. 11 car in Hamlin's absence but the team does have two viable candidates in Elliott Sadler and Brian Vickers already in house. Both drive for JGR in the Nationwide Series and have vast experience in Cup.

Sadler competed full-time in NASCAR's top series from 1999-2010 making 430 starts with three victories and one Chase appearance (2004). Vickers is also a former full-time competitor in Cup having made 264 starts, scoring two wins and qualifying for the Chase in 2009.

It will likely be Sadler who gets the nod at Martinsville, as Vickers is already committed to running a car for Michael Waltrip Racing.

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