Dale Earnhardt Jr. questions why so little information has been released on Denny Hamlin’s condition

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. wants answers – or at the very least, clarification – on why so little information has been released to date on why fellow driver Denny Hamlin missed this past Sunday’s Auto Club 400 in Fontana, Calif.

Hamlin was hospitalized for several hours Sunday with a severe sinus infection that reportedly affected his vision, making him unable to compete in the race.

In a story in USA Today, Earnhardt bemoaned the dearth of information on Hamlin’s condition, claiming this was the first time in his racing career that a driver was essentially pulled from a race so close to the green flag being dropped.

Due to the infection and how it impaired his vision, Hamlin did not receive medical clearance to race at Fontana, which wasn’t announced until during pre-race driver introductions.

“I’m worried the perception is bad for NASCAR and the perception is bad for Denny,” Earnhardt told USA Today.

“If Denny didn’t race because his vision is blurred and he had a sinus infection, NASCAR should put out a release and say, ‘This is the timeline of the events and this is why we made this choice and this is the protocol for going forward.’

“That answers everybody’s questions. Don’t you have questions? I have questions. We shouldn’t have questions. We should all feel pretty comfortable with what happened.”

Sam Hornish Jr. replaced him in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and finished 17th in the race.

RELATED: Hamlin finally speaks — kind of

Earnhardt isn’t accusing Hamlin or JGR of anything surreptitious, but added more information needs to be released to essentially clear Hamlin “of any wrongdoing or pressure or rumors.”

“If Denny did everything right, that’s good to know,” Earnhardt said. “Why NASCAR did the things they did and the timeline, it would be good to know those things because the drivers are all curious and the fans are curious.

“Information is moving around and you’re (hearing) conversations with your friends. It just doesn’t need to be going on. We should all know what happened and know why it happened and be done with it and not have to worry about it.”

NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp told USA Today, “Information regarding Denny Hamlin’s health and medical condition should come from Denny and/or Joe Gibbs Racing. As is our policy, Denny will be allowed to return to on track competition after NASCAR receives notification that he has been medically cleared by his physicians to race.”

Hamlin is reportedly still awaiting medical clearance to race this Sunday in NASCAR’s STP 500 Sprint Cup event at Martinsville Speedway.

(UPDATE: Hamlin was cleared Wednesday afternoon to race Sunday at Martinsville.)

Hamlin said on his Twitter account Tuesday night that he would give an update today (Wednesday), choosing not to say anything at the time out of respect for Richard Petty’s wife Lynda, who passed away Tuesday afternoon.

Earnhardt also questioned why NASCAR has not publicly addressed the situation with some form of statement, as well as there being no additional information released about Hamlin either by himself or Joe Gibbs Racing.

Hamlin addressed Earnhardt’s concern with this tweet:

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F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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