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.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.