FONTANA, Calif. — It has become an unwelcome yearly visit to a California hospital for Denny Hamlin.
Less than 30 minutes before Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway, Hamlin was transported to a local hospital after experiencing vision problems related to a sinus infection.
Hamlin missed the race and Sam Hornish Jr., who runs a partial Nationwide Series schedule for Joe Gibbs Racing, took his place in the No. 11 Toyota. Hornish had to start from the rear of the field because of the driver change.
One year ago, Hamlin was transported to a local hospital following the race after suffering a serious back injury in a last-lap wreck with Joey Logano. He missed the next four races.
“We hate it for him, he’s been so good for us over the years,” said JGR team president J.D. Gibbs.
Hamlin was released from the hospital on Sunday night and will follow up with doctors in Charlotte this week.
Shortly after the start of the race, Hamlin posted the following message to his Twitter account:
“So disappointed that I can’t compete today. Sorry to all my fans. Thought we had a car that could win today. Good luck to Sam Hornish.”
Because of the championship format NASCAR implemented in the offseason, Hamlin still can compete for the Cup title even though he missed a race.
Since the 16 Chase spots are first filled with race winners, Hamlin still can qualify with a win so long as he remains among the top 30 of driver points.
Hornish was at the track this weekend serving as a potential back-up driver for Matt Kenseth, whose wife, Katie, is expecting the couple’s third child at any time.
Hornish ran well in the race and at one point late in the 400-mile event, he was close to cracking the top 10 before getting hit by Paul Menard. Hornish ended up with a 17th-place finish.