Hamlin talks about coming back from injury (VIDEO)

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Denny Hamlin is no different than any other racer when he mentions how painful it was for somebody else to drive his car. After injuring his back in March during a last-lap crash at Auto Club Speedway, Hamlin had to endure that very situation and watch both Mark Martin and Brian Vickers race his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota while he recovered.

But Hamlin made sure to get something positive out of the trying experience.

“I came to the race track on the race weekend just like I would if I was driving and observe other guys and see what I can do make myself a better race car driver,” Hamlin told Michelle Beadle on NBC Sports Network’s “The Crossover” from Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I think coming out of this injury, I’m gonna be better than I was leading into it because of all the information I’ve gathered while sitting on the sidelines. Even though it’s [been] tough, I’ve also learned a lot of things.”

Hamlin has been impressive in his return to competition so far. In his first full race since the injury, he notched a runner-up finish at Darlington Raceway and on Thursday, he set a new CMS qualifying record en route to winning the pole for the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday night. It certainly appears that he’s putting all that he’s learned to good use.

To hear more on Hamlin’s resurgence, watch the video above and remember to check out “The Crossover” every weeknight at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.