Hopes for Chase bid starting to flicker for Denny Hamlin

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Denny Hamlin’s already slim margin for error in his quest to overcome an early-season back injury and make the Chase for the Sprint Cup may now be down to zero.

On Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, Hamlin ran a paint design that fallen driver Jason Leffler drove with for Joe Gibbs Racing when he debuted their still-ongoing FedEx sponsorship in 2005. But Hamlin was unable to make an impact in the Quicken Loans 400, finishing 30th with a car that could never make him a factor.

“We changed everything,” Hamlin’s crew chief, Darian Grubb, told NASCAR.com. “We changed shocks, bump stops, everything and we never affected it really. So we’ll take it back to the shop, tear it all apart and see if we can find something.”

Hamlin is currently 26th in the Sprint Cup standings, six spots out of where he needs to be in order to enter the conversation for a wild-card spot in the Chase. The two drivers between 11th and 20th place that have the most wins are eligible to earn those particular berths, and with 11 races remaining in the regular season, it could officially be desperation time for Hamlin and his No. 11 JGR squad.

Going into Michigan, Hamlin had recorded finishes of 34th at Dover (where he had sat on the pole) and eighth last weekend at Pocono. He needed to follow up strong on that Top 10 at the Tricky Triangle, but instead, he was unable to make up ground.

Next up is Sonoma, a track where he has never won and has finished outside the Top 30 in his last three starts.

Alex Zanardi showing signs of interaction three months after crash

Alex Zanardi recovery
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
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MILAN — Italian racing driver turned Paralympic gold medalist Alex Zanardi has started responding to treatment with signs of interaction, more than three months after he was seriously injured in a handbike crash.

Zanardi has spent most of that time in intensive care after crashing into an oncoming truck during a relay event near the Tuscan town of Pienza on June 19.

“For several days now. Alex Zanardi has undergone cognitive and motor rehabilitation sessions, with the administration of visual and acoustic stimuli, to which the patient responds with momentary and initial signs of interaction,” the San Raffaele hospital in Milan said in a statement Thursday.

The hospital said that is “significant progress” but added that his condition remains serious, and that it would be “absolutely premature” to make a long-term prognosis.

Zanardi, 53, suffered serious facial and cranial trauma in the crash and was put in a medically induced coma. Doctors have warned of possible brain damage.

He was operated on several times to stabilize him and reconstruct his severely damaged face and the Milan hospital added that he recently had undergone another surgery to reconstruct his skull and would have another one in the coming weeks.

Zanardi lost both of his legs in an auto racing crash nearly 20 years ago. He won four gold medals and two silvers at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics. He also competed in the New York City Marathon and set an Ironman record in his class.