Denny Hamlin cleared to race at Talladega

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He’s back. Officially.

Denny Hamlin posted two tweets on Thursday – a simple smiley face for the first, and “Don’t call it a comeback –LL Cool J,” for the second – ahead of official confirmation from NASCAR and doctors that he had been cleared to start at Talladega this weekend.

Earlier in the week, Hamlin projected he’d be back before official clearance, which was needed. He’s been sidelined since Joey Logano and he made contact at Auto Club Speedway at the end of March, with a fractured vertebrae.

Mark Martin (Martinsville) and Brian Vickers (since) have been the replacements in the No. 11 FedEx Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Vickers will be ready on stand-by to take over from Hamlin if and when he’ll exit the car at Talladega; neither Vickers nor Martin will be aboard Michael Waltrip’s No. 55 Toyota they usually share. That duty falls to Waltrip himself this weekend.

INDYCAR: Newgarden, Sato quickest in first of 2 Friday practices at Road America

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Josef Newgarden was quickest in the first of Friday’s two INDYCAR practice sessions at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion covered the 4.048-mile, 14-turn course with a best lap of 1:43.0477, followed by Takuma Sato (1:43.4729), Alexander Rossi (1:43.5603), Robert Wickens (1:43.5774) and Marco Andretti (1:43.8825).

Sixth-quickest was Tony Kanaan (1:44.0429), followed by Spencer Pigot (1:44.1080), Zach Veach (1:44.1306), Scott Dixon (1:44.1643) and Matheius Leist (1:44.2963).

Alfonso Celis Jr., making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut and with Juncos Racing, was 22nd quickest in the 23-car field at 1:44.9164, while Gabby Chaves was the slowest driver on the course at 1:46.4485.

While there were no significant incidents during the 45-minute session, a number of drivers struggled in several turns, primarily due to some lingering puddles from overnight rain, as well as on rumble strips that threw their cars into adjacent grass areas.

The second practice session today takes place at 4:15 p.m. ET.

A third practice kicks off Saturday’s busy day at Noon ET, followed by qualifying at 4 p.m. ET, the second round of qualifying at 4:40 p.m. ET and the third and final round of qualifying at 5 p.m. ET.

The weekend’s main event, Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix, takes the green flag shortly after 1 p.m. ET. Make sure to tune in to NBCSN for the live telecast of the race.

We’ll have the full practice grid and driver quotes shortly. Please check back soon.

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