Denny Hamlin knew his day in the Aaron’s 499 at the Talladega Speedway on Sunday wouldn’t last long.
He was just glad to be back on the race track, and off of it without any complications.
Hamlin, who returned to the track for the first time after suffering a compression fracture in his lower back during a wreck on March 24 at the California race, drove 23 laps before the planned swap out with Brian Vickers during a pit stop on the first caution.
“The exchange went great,” Hamlin said. “Really, that was about as smooth as it’s went for us.
“I had a checklist in the car with things that I needed to do before I got to switch over for the next driver. Everything went seamless.”
Vickers, however, wasn’t in the car long before getting caught up in a crash on lap 43 involving 16 drivers.
With the first test out of the way, however, Hamlin is now eager to return to a full schedule.
“The toughest part every weekend has been watching the cars go off the starting grid and on to the race track for the green flag,” Hamlin said. “Every week I feel a lot better and really this is the best I’ve felt physically in, gosh, months since I felt this good.
“So, I’m definitely looking forward to going back to full competition next week.”
First ‘Big One’: The first “Big One” wreck the track is so known for came on lap 43 when Kyle Busch tapped Kasey Kahne from behind, triggering a wreck involving 16 cars.
Busch accepted the blame.
“I know I got in the back of the 5 (Kahne), and I guess I was trying to go to the outside of him, but he just moved up in front of me and I wasn’t expecting it and I tried to go to the outside of him,” Busch said. “And before I could get to the outside of him, I got in the back of him.
“I just hate that I caused a melee for everybody. I hate that. A lot of cars got torn up and it’s way too early in the race to be doing any of those sort of moves whether he made it, or I made it.
“I just hate it that we all go crashed in that deal.”
There were no serious injuries in the wreck.
Newman fuming: Ryan Newman was extremely upset after being involved in a crash on lap 184 as the race ended in near darkness following a rain delay of three hours and a half.
“They can build safer race cars, they can build safer walls,” Newman said. “But they can’t get their heads out of their asses far enough to keep them on the race track, and that’s pretty disappointing.
“I wanted to make sure I get that point across. Y’all can figure out who ‘they’ is. That’s no way to end a race. Our car was much better than that.
“That’s just poor judgment in restarting the race, poor judgment. I mean, you got what you wanted. But poor judgment and running in the dark and running in the rain. That’s it. Thank you.”
Early trouble: Trevor Bayne found early trouble when his car blew an engine on lap 22 to bring out the first caution of the day.
“No warning at all,” Bayne said after exiting his car for the day. “I got to turn one and it let go. I’m surprised the whole field didn’t crash with as much oil that’s pouring out of this thing in the garage, but we were lucky to hold onto it and keep this car in one piece.”
Roll Tide presence: Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron served as the honorary pace car driver for Sunday’s race, and Michael Waltrip’s Toyota Camry had a University of Alabama paint scheme as a tribute to the current BCS national champions. The words “Roll Tide” were painted across the back bumper. Waltrip also wore a red helmet in tribute to the Crimson Tide. Model Katherine Webb, the girlfriend of McCarron, was with the Alabama quarterback at the track.
Chipper starts ‘em: Former Atlanta Braves great Chipper Jones served as the Grand Marshal for Sunday’s race.
“I have been a huge NASCAR fan my entire life,” Jones said. “I have met many people within the world of NASCAR as well as many dedicated true fans of the sport.”
Jones, when asked if he had a favorite going into Sunday’s race, said he was going with Jeff Gordon.
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