6 May 2013
2013 Talladega NASCAR: Hamlin happy with brief return
Given the uncertainty of stock car racing, Hamlin hadn't been sure how long he'd be in the car when the green flag came out: the caution could have come out after a couple of laps, or after 50. But Hamlin said that he wasn't concerned about when the changeover would materialise.
"Even if we had to pit for fuel we would've gone ahead and done that and just waited for the first caution whether it had been lap 20 or 120," he insisted. We were going to do it at a caution. Luckily we wanted to be five to six seconds behind the pack and we were. Everything kind of worked out ideally how you would want it to."
Hamlin was particularly appreciative of help and support from other drivers, not just those in his JGR team, which had made his brief cameo at Talladega possible on Sunday. Michael Waltrip, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya were among those to pitch in during those early laps.
"They really sacrificed the first part of the race for me and I can't thank them enough," he said. "It means a lot as a driver to have your peers have your back like that."
The biggest help of all came from Tony Stewart, a former JGR driver before he set up his own race team, who dropped back with Hamlin to give him some drafting support and ensure the #11 didn't get so isolated that he risked going off the lead lap before the first caution.
"Tony actually approached me at my charity event last weekend and said I want to work with you depending on what your plan is for Talladega," Hamlin revealed. "Me and Tony, for whatever reason - when we stopped becoming teammates, we started becoming teammates. We've been closer off the race track and on the race track now that he's with Stewart-Haas than ever when we were with Gibbs. We've got a great relationship and he's had my back really for the last three years."
Hamlin was certainly relieved to be back in action again. Although he's attended the four Cup races since his accident - Martinsville, Texas, Kansas and Richmond - he admitted that he hadn't enjoyed watching on helplessly from the sidelines while first mark Martin and latterly Vickers sat in for him in the car.
"I was enjoying it more than anything because it gave me something to do today," he said of finally being back behind the wheel. "For me the toughest part of every weekend has been watching the cars go off the starting grid and on to the race track for the green flag. I didn't have to endure that pain this time around, but it is just tough now just having to watch especially this type of racing where it's so circumstantial."
Even for someone with his NASCAR experience, Hamlin was still a little caught out by the experience of racing at Talladega after his five-week lay-off.
"I'm driving around there and never thought anything of it before but the speed kind of catches you off guard a little bit, especially when you haven't done it for a month-plus," he admitted. "It was all different to me, but it still, no matter what my involvement today was, I at least had something that I could do and something that I could contribute to the race team."
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