Denny Hamlin says he’ll be back at Talladega

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Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin will return to Sprint Cup action this Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, but he is expected not to run the full race. Hamlin has been sidelined since suffering a compression fracture in his lower back following a last-lap crash at Auto Club Speedway last month, but the Virginia racer tweeted this morning that he has been cleared to start the Aaron’s 499 at NASCAR’s biggest track.

“I can not wait to get back in car.. The smell of fuel and tires Ahhh,” Hamlin tweeted later on.

Going into last weekend’s race at Richmond International Raceway, Hamlin indicated that his doctors were okay with him starting the Talladega event before handing over the car to his substitute driver, Brian Vickers.

Such a switch can be done under yellow without losing a lap at Talladega thanks to its 2.66-mile length, and because Hamlin will start the race, he’ll earn all the points that Vickers collects with his finish. Hamlin has fallen to 28th in the Sprint Cup standings as a result of his injury, and is targeting a full return to action at Darlington Raceway on May 11.

Vickers’ name is currently listed as driver of Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing machine on the Talladega entry list.

Hamilton leads damp first USGP practice at COTA, Hartley debuts

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Lewis Hamilton continued his impressive Formula 1 record at the Circuit of The Americas by topping opening practice for the United States Grand Prix on Friday for Mercedes.

A four-time winner of the USGP at COTA, Hamilton set the pace in damp conditions in first practice after rain hit the Austin area in the lead-up to the start of the session.

After initially venturing out on intermediate tires, Hamilton made the switch to super-softs at the halfway point in FP1, ultimately posting a fastest time of 1:36.335.

Hamilton’s time saw him finish over half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who he could beat to the F1 drivers’ championship at COTA this weekend should results go his way.

Mercedes got two cars into the top three as Valtteri Bottas wound up third in the second W08 car, six-tenths back from Hamilton, while Max Verstappen ended FP1 fourth for Red Bull.

Felipe Massa led Williams into the top 10 with an impressive lap en route to fifth, finishing ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.

Vandoorne was left to lead McLaren’s charge after a hydraulic leak sidelined Fernando Alonso for much of the session, limiting the Spaniard to just four laps in total.

Force India managed to get both its drivers up into the top 10 as Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finished eighth and ninth respectively, edging out Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr. who was P10 in his first appearance for the team.

Brendon Hartley enjoyed his first run-out in Toro Rosso’s STR12 car ahead of his grand prix debut on Sunday, taking P14 overall.

The New Zealander had not driven an F1 car since a test with Mercedes in 2012, but put in a solid first display in practice, even though his race hopes are set to be hindered by a grid penalty.

Second practice for the United States Grand Prix is live on the NBC Sports app from 3pm ET today.