|Credit: Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs|
Various sources reported Monday that Denny Hamlin sustained a compression fracture of the first lumbar vertebrae in the last-lap crash during Sunday's Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in California. When crew chief Darian Grubb called to Hamlin on the team radio, Hamlin said "It's my back, it's my back, it's my back."
Hamlin was released from a California hospital late Monday night. He'll return to Charlotte, where he'll be evaluated by Dr. Jerry Petty of Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates, the same doctor who treated Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s concussion. Jeff Gluck of USA Today spoke with Hamlin's business manager Austin Peyton, but Peyton didn't know whether surgery would be necessary or if Hamlin would miss any races.
Fans waited anxiously for word of Hamlin's condition after Hamlin was placed on a backboard for his trip to the infield care center, then airlifted to a local hospital after complaining of back pain. A terse statement from JGR on Sunday evening didn't give much more information. It wasn't until late Monday that Hamlin made his first tweets since before the race. The first simply said, "I just want to go home," and the second said, "All good" with a photo of him in the hospital.
Gradually more news and communication has come from the Hamlin camp. While the denizens of NASCAR Nation are relieved to hear from the driver, they're also apprehensive about what the injury means for his health and for his season.
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When you hear that someone broke their back, or fractured a vertebrae, it sounds really scary. Suddenly the thoughts of "Will he miss a race?" turn to "When can he get back in the car?" and maybe even "Can he get back in the car?"
Until Dr. Petty thoroughly examines and evaluates Hamlin's condition, those questions will remain unanswered. The preliminary diagnosis means that when the car hit the wall, the impact compressed the lumbar vertebrae - the area in red in the diagram to the left - causing the bone to crack, in Hamlin's case the top one, L1.
Symptoms can include pain, of course, but also numbness and tingling that radiate down the legs. Sometimes surgery is necessary but other times rest and rehabilitation are sufficient.
According to ESPN's David Newton, the area of the wall where Hamlin hit had not had such an incident before and will be reviewed by NASCAR as to whether it will have a SAFER Barrier installed now.
Fortunately, the other safety measures such as the HANS device and the car design prevented even more severe injuries. It's hard now to even conceive of a time when drivers didn't have the full-face helmet, HANS and protective seats. But as well as those measures worked, it's good to know that NASCAR will continue to evaluate and improve safety for the drivers.
The Skirts and Scuffs team extends best wishes for Hamlin's speedy recovery.
She's been a part of the Skirts and Scuffs team since May 2011, going from contributor to media rep, photographer, and associate editor covering both NASCAR and IZOD IndyCar. Janine considers it a privilege to represent the site at the track and to share with readers the excitement of the world of motorsports.
Follow her on Twitter @ljc777.