Just five months ago, Denny Hamlin could barely get in his race car at his home track in Richmond without first stopping at the care center for treatment on his aching back.

He was bent on finishing the year despite the fractured vertebra that had derailed his season and was causing him so much discomfort. That dogged determination eventually helped him turn a corner.

Hamlin was feeling substantially better by the end of the season when he won his only race of the year at Homestead. It gave him momentum into the offseason and resolve to make 2014 his year.

His win in last Saturday night's exhibition Sprint Unlimited was a statement for Hamlin — and for anyone who doubted he couldn't return from his injury.