Denny Hamlin explained on Thursday why he was not medically cleared to compete in this weekend's Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway.
Hamlin continues to recover from a compression fracture in his lower back. Earlier this week, Hamlin was evaluated by doctors and had a scan on his back. Doctors determined his injury had not yet healed properly, and it would be too much of a risk for his return to competition right now.
"During our call (Wednesday), they were speaking as much Chinese as I could understand," Hamlin said. "I saw the scan and saw the healing that they were talking about. However, they said that one of the plates is not healing the way they wanted, in order to clear me. That was their determining factor.
"My injury is very, very hard, because there's no exact science about the risks. No one knows what the risks will be if I race this week or if I race two weeks from now. Bone healing is completely subjective. It could take years of healing most times to be 100 percent."
Hamlin sustained his injury during an accident on the final lap of the March 24 race in Fontana, Calif. Last weekend at Kansas, he said his chances of running at Richmond were "50-50." However, Hamlin posted on his Twitter account on Wednesday evening that he would not be racing there, following his latest medical evaluation. The 32-year-old driver grew up just miles away from this 0.75-mile racetrack in Chesterfield, VA. He is hopeful to return to his driving duties in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota when the series runs at Talladega Superspeedway the first weekend in May.
Hamlin has already missed Martinsville, Texas and Kansas. Mark Martin substituted for him at Martinsville, and Vickers drove the No. 11 car at Texas and Kansas. Vickers is also scheduled to be in the car at Richmond.
Hamlin had hopes of not missing any races, so it would not hurt his chances of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship for the eighth straight season. He held the 10th position in the point standings after Fontana, but has dropped to the 26th spot since then.
"Honestly, I know everyone is trying to protect me from myself," he said. "I would have raced at Martinsville weeks ago. The doctors are more informed these days and understand risks more than what they used to. It used to be off of driver-feel. It's not that way anymore, obviously with concussions and everything else. They try to protect you from yourself."
Hamlin's annual "Short Track Showdown" race, which benefits his charity foundation, is scheduled for Thursday night at Richmond. Hamlin has normally competed in this event, but his JGR teammate, Matt Kenseth, will substitute for him.
"It's a different feel not driving today," Hamlin said. "Usually, today is a very busy day. You're trying to race and put on a good show. It's been different. I've had a little bit more time to kind of check things out and help out guys here and there. Ultimately, we're here for a cause, and a lot of kids are going to benefit."