Hamlin answers questions about his back and why it is easier to skip practice at Daytona than other tracks.
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
What is your outlook this weekend at Daytona with your back issues? "Lucky that we are at Daytona in the sense of as important as practices are for the Cup Series, at this track they're n ot as important. Basically, any other race track, I definitely would be on -track at this point, but I've made such decent to good progress through this week, you don't want to give that up by getting in a wreck and then jeopardizing being able to start the Cup race. We decided to sit everything out until I'm absolutely needed and we'll take it from there."
What is wrong with your back? "There are a few things. There are some torn disks and there's some bulging disks. There's a lot of different things that's just happened over time, and it's just gotten progressively worse. I noticed -- Kentucky is not the smoothest of race tracks that we've gone to, and with our aggressive setups nowadays , evidentially took its toll on us and the next day it got rea l tight by the end of the day, and then I sat down for dinner and couldn't get up. I've had a history of back spasms now for probably four years and it just flared up again. This is about as bad as it was at its worse in 2008 or so. I'm just now starting to get mobile again and being able to get around. We don't want to set any of that back by sitting down any longer than I have to."
Could playing golf or basketball make your back flare up, and what are you doing to treat your back? "It very well could. There's always a chance of that. Those are things that I work really hard at to try to stretch. There's some reasons why it's happening and getting worse. Even before I picked up golf and basketball, and really around 2008 , I had this problem so I don't directly link it to that. But, to treat it, we're just doing a lot of ice and stim (stimulation) and rehab and stuff like that, that I'm going to have to continue to do for a while. Obviously, having a couple of needles in my spine this morning is not the best feeling, so it's good that I can get a day off."
Will you have to cutback or stop playing golf and basketball to heal your back? "Yeah, for a little while. I'll definitely have to tame it down. The goal right now is to get everything stronger first before I go back to doing those things. I think that probably by Monday that I'll be back to where I was before these spasms started hitting. And, then from that point on next week I'll start doing stuff to start strengthening. Similar to when we had the torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) -- you come back you rehab to get stronger so it doesn't happen again. We'll do those same things with the back starting next week."
How long does it take to rehab and strengthen your back? "It's all going to be based off of my feel really. I think that I really feel like, by say Monday or Tuesday , that I'll feel exactly the way I was before last week. I've always had back pain. Unfortunately I inherited it from my dad. It's one of the bad qualities I did get from him. It's just one of those things that anytime I play an activity, it doesn't matter what it is, even if I go for a run, I've always had back problems afterwards -- stiffness and things like that. So, it will be just kind of touch and feel from that point on of when things start feeling well for me then I will know that I've reached where I want to be."
Did you foresee 12 different wins in 17 races so far this year coming into the season? "It would make it difficult if you were outside the top-10 to get a Chase position because it looks like you are going to have to be in the top-13 or 14 in points to do it. You're basically going to have the 12 best drivers in there anyway. Luckily we're in a decent position where we have a little bit of a gap over 11th-place. With all of those different winners it just tells you that the drivers and the cars are all so equal now that it's all about who just gets out front and can go. I feel like there hasn't been as much passing here in the last few weeks due to the harder tires that we've had to change to -- that Goodyear is working on. As soon as we find some good combinations like we had at Michigan before they started blistering I felt like you were going to have a better race as far as non-track position-type racing. Right now, I think anyone who puts themselves in the right strategy has got a chance to win as long as you've got a car with decent speed. That's why I think you've seen so many different winners."
Are you not in your car because of the pain tolerance? "No, it's just with spasms -- I think everyone in this room has had spasms on something in the course of their life -- anything can set it off and obviously the most risk of having an accident in practice would be on a superspeedway. The likelihood of me getting in an accident in the Nationwide race would be fairly high as well. And those are all things that could trigger me going backwards from everything I've gained this week so that's the reason. Nine times out of 10 the best you're going to be is the way you unloaded anyway so we're confident in what we had in February will be fine for Saturday night. And, we just wanted to minimize risk. That's all."
Did your doctor tell you if you'd eventually need surgery for your back? "Years down the road, he said. What we're trying to cover up is basically just stuff that can be helped with just training and things like that. A lot of people have problems with their disks and they live with it every day and there's no problem. I'm just going to do more physical therapy to specifically work on that because I really haven't in my training regimen that much here lately -- worked on back issues so now we're going to shift that focus to that."
Why is it easier to skip practice at Daytona than it would be at a different track? "You almost look at the schedule and unless there's a major rule change, you could pretty much just lineup about a 30 minute practice for all divisions and everyone would be fine with it. Obviously there's a TV factor and things like that, too. You want to keep all the schedules the same no matter what the track. I'm sure some people are on different agendas, but nowadays, everyone is just trying to minimize their risks. They want to race the car that they unload as a primary and the more you're out there, the more chance there is that you're not going to do that, especially on a track where you're running so close to each other. I think everyone nowadays -- you probably won't see 20 cars or so run the final practice of Cup just because it's -- you got what you've got. That's the fortunate part of our 11 team this weekend given the circumstances of myself, that we're here and not like a track where you'll be tuning on the setup like a 1.5-mile."
Will your back issues affect your participation in the Nationwide Series? "I never really was affected until Kentucky. I thought everything was fine. It seems like that track and the surface, things like that -- it's tough, especially when you run an aggressive setup. I'm assuming that's kind of what set things off. I've run probably seven Nationwide races this year and not had an issue and actually felt okay for Cup. Until this, unless this rears its ugly head again, I wouldn't change anything. I want to continue to run as many Nationwide races that I can."
Why do you think Cup drivers are running fewer NNS races lately? "I think it takes a little focus away from the Cup, although the adjustments and the things you do to your car will transfer over to the Cup Series. It's just not as big of a benefit anymore. I think sponsorship is a little bit harder to find and that cuts out some of the Cup drivers. Really, I've run as many races as I have sponsors for. If we had sponsors for 25 races, I'm sure I'd be running that many. It's just sponsorship is a little bit harder to come by is what I think it is and of course the points thing also. You had some Cup guys running for Nationwide points and now that's eliminated. There's really, other than you're racing for a trophy, there's really not much that you're going out there on Saturday for."
Will you have a relief driver on Saturday? "I don't plan on having a relief driver. I think that if something were to happen, and I didn't feel well, there'd be somebody around that could help, but don't plan on having anyone. I do plan on starting and really, I could probably do it today if I had to, but it's not race day. I'm going to have two more days before I really have to get in and go."
Have you spoken with Jeff Gordon about his previous back problems? "I haven't talked to Jeff (Gordon) about it. I don't know what specific issues he had with his back, but I know he fought it for a long time. We really know now what's going on after getting an MRI and looking at everything exactly what's going on. Now we know how to treat it. This is something that I kind of let go away in 2008 or whenever it happened the first time. Now that we have a diagnosis, we can make it better. I anticipate this really won't happen again."
Are you insured within your contract for physical issues like this? "As far as insuring a problem like this, we have stuff in place to help out when stuff like this happens."
Was there any thought to test the market prior to you extending your contract at Joe Gibbs Racing? "Gibbs (Joe Gibbs Racing) has been extremely generous to me in a lot of different ways. They gave me my start. They bent over backwards for me in a lot of different ways and really have helped me and put me with a great team. Really, when you look at where can you go and improve the seat that you're in, there just isn't any out there that you'd want to even consider. I feel like I'm with a championship-caliber team, obviously a championship crew chief. We've only been beat once by a JGR driver in points since I've been there. I feel like however Gibbs is capable of running is where we'll run and I feel like we have championship caliber cars. Any move that you make over money or something like that will eventually catch up to you. My thought was always to stay with Gibbs. I have such a great relationship with everyone at FedEx that we've got a good thing going right now. You don't want to test the waters and end up shooting yourself in the foot because there's very few, both sponsors and teams out there that have the relationship with their driver that I feel like we have."
What do you think about the idea of putting mandatory cautions in races? "Gosh, I don't know. It's 50-50 on whether you want stuff like that. I'm more in favor of the green flag runs. It allows us at least to be, the drivers to be in control of their tire wear, to manage their equipment and car. I think when you have mandatory cautions, what can happen is everyone just drives as hard as they can every single lap with no -- there's no disadvantage to wearing out your equipment and that takes the driver out of the equation even more. When you have long green flag runs, typically setups and drivers makeup the difference on long runs -- the better drivers and the better cars. That's when you'll see the passing. I think it really could be dangerous for these car owners and things like that if you had mandatory cautions. You'd end up having more fluke winners and more fluke champions when it's all said and done."
Source: Toyota Motorsports