CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Denny Hamlin has targeted the April 27 race at his home track in Richmond for his potential return from a back injury.
Time will tell if Hamlin will run in that Sprint Cup race. But he does know he can’t do the Short Track Showdown, his annual charity race held two days before the Cup event.
Hamlin has tabbed Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth to replace him in the Showdown, which benefits the Denny Hamlin Cystic Fibrosis Research Lab at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.
“Obviously, it kills me to not be able to race in the Short Track Showdown,” Hamlin said. “I grew up racing these cars against some of the best in the area, and it’s always fun to come back and do it again. But my injury won’t allow that this year.”
Hamlin suffered a compression fracture of a vertebra in his lower back in a last-lap accident at California on March 24. Doctors said he’ll miss at least five races, but Hamlin is trying to come back early in time to race at Richmond, where he’s a two-time winner.
But he loves his charity race, which is filled with top drivers like three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart and locals including C.E. Faulk. Now the field will include Kenseth, a two-time Daytona 500 winner and 2003 NASCAR champion.
“Matt has been a great teammate since coming to Joe Gibbs Racing, and I have to thank him for stepping in for me in this race,” Hamlin said. “There’s a great list of drivers in this year’s field, and I know they’ll put on an awesome show for the fans at RIR.”
Kenseth, who has stayed in constant contact with Hamlin since his injury, was happy to step in for his new teammate.