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Denny Hamlin: "Maybe" I came back too soon, but struggles in tough year will serve me well

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NASCAR Sprint Cup series driver Denny Hamlin talks to the media after practice for Sunday's auto race at the Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Va., Friday, Oct. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) (The Associated Press)

Denny Hamlin thinks that he might have come back too soon, but he's glad he did.

The driver for Joe Gibbs Racing missed only four races after a compression fracture of a vertebra in his lower back in a last-lap accident at California on March 24.

The perennial series championship contender rushed back hoping to defy the odds, qualify for the NASCAR's 10-race playoffs and make a run at the championship that has eluded him in his career.

After a hope-fueling return that included second- and fourth-place finishes in his second and third starts, Hamlin's luck essentially ran out. He didn't make the Chase, and arrived at Martinsville Speedway 24th in points.

He says the difficulties will make him appreciate being healthy again.