Denny Hamlin is expected to make his long-awaited return to the driver’s seat of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota this weekend at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. He won’t run the entire Aaron’s 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday, though. Hamlin has been cleared to start the race, but there will be an in-race driver change, and Brian Vickers will finish the event. Vickers has been the fill-in driver in the No. 11, with the exception of one race, since Hamlin was injured at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on March 24. Mark Martin also drove the No. 11 in one race.
Hamlin confirmed, via Twitter, on Tuesday that he has been cleared to start the race at Talladega. As long as Hamlin starts the race, he’ll receive the driver points the No. 11 earns in the event, even though Vickers will be in the car at the finish.
Hamlin suffered a spinal injury, specificially a compression fracture of his L1 vertebrae, in a wreck with former teammate Joey Logano in the Auto Club Speedway race on March 24. He has been out of the car since. Hamlin and Logano also had a run-in the previous week at Bristol (Ten.) Motor Speedway.
Hamlin’s original estimated recovery time was approximately six weeks. He had hoped to return last weekend when the circuit visited Richmond International Raceway in his home state of Virginia, but he was not cleared in time for the Richmond race.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR