Denny Hamlin suffered a compression fracture to his lower back in an accident with Joey Logano on the final lap of the Auto Club 400 at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver had been running at the top of the field for much of the race, battling with rival Logano for position on a number of occasions, with many believing it was just a matter of time before the two came together.
The incident waited until the final corner of the final lap, however, as the two battled for the win. Hamlin was running the outside line, giving Logano space for a move on the inside through turn 4. Logano’s car ran into the side of Hamlin, however, causing Logano to hit the outside wall, but sent Hamlin spinning off towards the infield.
Hamlin’s car then hit the infield barrier at speed, launching the car in the air before coming back to rest. The area that Hamlin’s car hit was not equipped with the SAFER barrier.
Safety crews were on scene immediately, making sure Hamlin was kept in the best condition possible. Television footage showed Hamlin laying on the infield with the safety crews working on him, before he was taken to hospital, where he would stay overnight, in the back of an ambulance.
He is expected to fly home to Charlotte on Monday, where he will be evaluated by Dr Jerry Petty of Carolina Neurosurgery and Spinal Associates later in the week to determine whether he will be able to race at Martinsville in two weeks time.
It is not Hamlin’s first back injury after having to sit out the Nationwide Series race at Daytona last year due to back spasms following an incident in Kentucky. Reporters were told at the time that he was suffering from bulging discs in his back.
“Anytime that NASCAR makes any recommendation that they feel will reduce injuries or the threat to injuries, we will always implement that,” said Auto Club Speedway president Gillian Zucker, in reference to the area Hamlin hit not being fitted with SAFER barriers. “I’m sure that every incident that occurs NASCAR reviews and determines whether anything needs to be done. This is a constantly revolving project. When barriers first came we certainly didn’t put them all around the facility. Then NASCAR made recommendations and we added more here and more here.”