Denny Hamlin trying to avoid surgery following end of season

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Denny Hamlin is looking toward the off-season as his best opportunity to get 100 percent healthy after what has been a very painful 2013 campaign.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver missed four full races while recuperating from a compression fracture in his back that he sustained in March during a last-lap crash at Auto Club Speedway.

Unfortunately for him, a chronic problem with bulging discs means that his back is still giving him pain, and according to the NASCAR Wire Service, surgery is still an option.

“I had some treatment done two weeks ago that usually lasts me about a month to a month and a half,” Hamlin said Thursday to the NWS’ Reid Spencer. “Just basically got some shots to relieve pain, and hopefully what it’s going to do is buy me a month and a half of relief to get healthy. The problem with our schedule is that I don’t have enough time at home to rehab and do all the things I need to do to get better, so I need the offseason.”

“Now I’ve got some relief. The last two weeks have been really great, as far as pain is concerned, so now I’m hoping this next month and a half – from now until the end of the season – I can spend time doing all the hard regimen stuff that I can do. That way I’ll see, if it’s not relieved by the end of that month-and-a-half term, whether I will need surgery or not.”

Hamlin finished second in his first full race back from his compression fracture injury at Darlington, but has had a dreadful second half of the season. His 12th-place finish last weekend at New Hampshire was his best result since June at Michigan – a span of 14 races.

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.