|Hamlin puts injury behind him and focuses on 2014|
|Wednesday, February 19, 2014 9:11 PM|
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — 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.
Kligerman lands on roof in Daytona 500 practice: The first full practice for the Daytona 500 ended early Wednesday after rookie Parker Kligerman’s airborne car ripped out a chunk of the grandstand fence.
Kligerman’s car ended up sliding on its roof halfway down the front-stretch at Daytona International Speedway.
No one was injured in the 7-car wreck, which stirred memories of last year’s last-lap crash in the second-tier Nationwide Series season opener at Daytona. Kyle Larson’s car destroyed a large section of the catch-fence, sending debris into the stands and injuring nearly 30 people.
The stands were virtually empty during practice Wednesday.
The garage area, meanwhile, was buzzing with teams feverishly trying to fix cars or fine-tune backups for today’s dual qualifying races.
“It happens every year,” driver Joey Logano said. “You always hope you’re the one that’s not in it or you miss it. I saw it getting kind of crazy out there and you’re kind of in the middle of it and you can’t really get out of it at that point when you’re in the middle. It was a little too late.”
Logano and Matt Kenseth started the melee when they got together coming out of turn 4 during a drafting session. Trevor Bayne hit Logano, who then slammed into Paul Menard. Menard’s car shot up the track and collected Kligerman.
“You don’t want to wreck in practice for sure,” Kenseth said. “Honestly, the last lap and a half, I was just trying to figure out how to get out of there and get to the pits. But when you’re stuck in the middle, you kind of got to wait until everything clears out.”
Kligerman’s car lifted off the ground, landed on top of Ryan Truex’s hood then turned upside-down before coming to a stop across the track.
“You’re not learning anything racing like that in practice,” said Kligerman, one of eight rookies trying to make Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500. “It was the first time I’d ever flipped over. I’d never done that in a race car. I assumed it’d be rough but it was actually soft. I saw the whole thing go down. I’m up in the fence kind of floating along. Thankfully, none of the fans got injured, I hope.”
Kligerman, though, wasn’t happy with Logano and his No. 22 Ford.
“The 22 was being overly aggressive. It’s a shame,” Kligerman added. “He’s supposed to be a veteran. You go up here to the Sprint Cup Series, it’s supposed to be the best of the best and a guy in a practice is racing people like it’s the end of the Daytona 500. … I don’t quite understand that one. I am pretty upset about how that all went down.”
Dave Blaney also was involved in the crash. Six of the seven cars involved in the wreck — all but Kenseth — went to backup cars. Blaney doesn’t have a backup car, but was working to get one from another team.
Swan Racing was the hardest hit. Not only was Kligerman’s car totaled but teammate Cole Whitt also hammered the wall earlier in practice. Whitt’s accident caused Brian Vickers and Casey Mears to get together, and Jeff Gordon ended up with a piece of debris lodged in his hood.
Swan had just one backup car, which went to Kligerman, so the team was forced to fix Whitt’s Toyota.
Vickers also went to a backup car. All of the backup cars will have to start from the back of the field in Thursday’s qualifying races.
The damage to the fence was severe enough that NASCAR canceled the rest of the practice session so workers could repair the small hole. Daytona officials said the fence held up as expected. Workers replaced one cable and some meshing, and no one in the stands was injured.
Fifteen cars didn’t get on track during the first session. That included 6-time and defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, who wrecked one Daytona car in the exhibition Sprint Unlimited on Saturday night.
“Not that we were going to draft in practice before that but we really aren’t going to draft now,” Johnson added. “We need to watch ourselves because we’re down to one good race car. We have other stuff at home, but we really don’t want to bring it down here.”
Sprint Cup-Budweiser Duel 2 Lineup
After Sunday qualifying; race today
At Daytona International Speedway
Daytona Beach, Fla.
Lap length: 2.5 miles
(Car number in parentheses)
1. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 195.852 mph.
2. (99) Carl Edwards, Ford, 195.712.
3. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 195.296.
4. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 195.042.
5. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 194.919.
6. (33) Brian Scott, Chevrolet, 194.776.
7. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 194.637.
8. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 194.582.
9. (7) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 194.574.
10. (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 194.523.
11. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 194.477.
12. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 194.41.
13. (21) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 194.334.
14. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 194.078.
15. (51) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 193.616.
16. (40) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 193.732.
17. (66) Michael Waltrip, Toyota, 193.428.
18. (35) Eric McClure, Ford, 192.905.
19. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 192.695.
20. (34) David Ragan, Ford, 192.328.
21. (32) Terry Labonte, Ford, 192.135.
22. (52) Bobby Labonte, Chevrolet, 192.493.
23. (83) Ryan Truex, Toyota, 190.347.
24. (93) Morgan Shepherd, Toyota, 189.542.