The reports are in, and they're not good. After a heavy last-lap crash while battling with Joey Logano for the lead in Sunday's Auto Club 400, Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin suffered an L1 compression fracture in his back.
Hamlin hopes to be released from a California hospital today and will visit with famed neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty before determining his status for the next Sprint Cup race at Martinsville in two weeks. The hope is that he won't have to miss any events, but as his health is the first priority, his status remains questionable at the moment.
In racing, the effects of back injuries can be wildly unpredictable. Buddy Lazier won the 1996 Indianapolis 500 despite having broken his back in multiple places two months prior. But when Dario Franchitti suffered a back injury in April 2003 while riding a motorcycle—a fracture of the L1 vertebrae, the same vertebrae Hamlin injured—he missed all but one race over the rest of the season.
In short, Gibbs may be looking to hire a substitute driver in the near future.
Luckily for the perennial Chase-contending team, there are plenty of quality driver options to fill the seat if the worst-case scenario indeed plays out. The following five drivers may see their names bandied about if Hamlin has to miss any significant time, and don't be surprised if any one of them takes over the No. 11 Toyota.