Skip to content

UPDATED: Denny Hamlin explains what happened at Fontana

Mar 28, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT

Subway Fresh Fit 500 Getty Images

UPDATE: Denny Hamlin met with members of the media after Friday’s Sprint Cup practice session at Martinsville Speedway. In that session, Hamlin set track records for speed and elapsed time, becoming the first driver in track history to eclipse 100 mph in a lap, as well as under 19 seconds.

Here’s excerpts of Hamlin’s explanation of what happened last Sunday at Fontana, followed by what he said earlier today in an interview with Fox Sports.

“Friday evening I definitely felt an agitation right in the corner to my upper eyelid so I thought I was getting a sty because it just felt like one. Then Saturday, I woke up and it was a little worse. I ran through practice and vision was fine, but just a lot of watering and I didn’t see any swelling of the eyelid so I knew it wasn’t a sty at that point.

“I didn’t go to the infield care center until late on Saturday. Me and my girlfriend went to the mall – we were shopping around and it was bothering me so much that I contacted one of the NASCAR liaisons and asked if anyone was still at the infield care center. They said they would wait on me so they waited on me. They looked at it, they dyed it, they put it under a black light, didn’t see any scratches, didn’t see anything in the eye.

“Immediately we started trying to figure out what would be causing it if there’s nothing in it. The only thing I could think of is I was starting to actually get a little stuffy on my left hand side of my face and my nose was running a little bit. I mentioned to them in trying to cover all the possibilities that I showed them a CT scan from January where I had a really, really bad sinus infection — it was the worst the doctor has ever seen.

“We took some antibiotics for a couple weeks, I started feeling better and so I never went back to him to get a scan, which I probably should have went back to Petty in January after I took all the antibiotics and felt better. I just assumed that if I feel better then more than likely it’s gone.

“So I went to bed Saturday night, woke up Sunday and felt twice as worse – pain was twice as worse and vision was slightly impaired over where it was Saturday. I stayed in the infield care center for a couple hours and we tried to go over all the possibilities of what it could be and really since they didn’t see anything in it, the only thing we could do was get an optometrist to come to the race track, which it was too late into the day for that, it was too late for me to go to one and come back in time (for the race).

“So everyone came to an agreement that the best thing for me was to go to the hospital and get scanned in case. There’s tons of different possibilities, whether it be a blood clot – anything that affects because there’s more to it, but any time wind would hit my eye it would shoot a pain right to my temple, so they thought that there was something really bad going on behind the eye that they didn’t have the equipment in the infield care center – you need to get a CT scan.

“The only way they’re ever going to know is to put me through another scan and see, but by the time I got to the hospital and the optometrist came in with her microscope, saw the metal, got it out – a portion of it, she couldn’t get the rust out she said – it would need a couple more days for that to harden to get out.

“Once the metal came out, I felt a lot better.  We went home, the CT scan showed that I was perfectly clear on the sinus part of it, which was very, very good news. I thought I was going to have to do something about that as well so I was perfectly good with the sinuses, it was just the metal that was overlooked.

“I wanted to race of course, no matter what.  I felt like if I was going to be a liability I would have pulled myself during the race, but there’s protocols that we have to go through and it’s not just my safety that has got to be taken into account. We’re racing around other guys and that’s one of the fastest tracks we go to.

“What if I caused a wreck early on? I don’t need to be a liability out there and obviously with this new format we hardly lost anything in points. We still have a great shot to win a lot of races from here until the Chase so take the safe approach.

“There were two separate, perfectly good doctors in the infield care center at California and both of them could not see it.  It took someone who was in the business of eyes to find it. It sucks because I wish I would have got it out on Saturday then I would have been fine for Sunday, but it’s part of it and it’s just bad luck. The track hates me.

“… Although at the hospital they found the metal and I felt better instantly, that doesn’t mean that was the whole problem. We had to go through two more days of testing in Charlotte to realize that the sinus part was okay. They got everything out on Monday.  Basically around the metal it built a rust ring so there was like a ring of rust around it. They needed time for that to harden for them to pick that out. Once he got that out I felt better yet.

“That’s why nothing was said for a few days is because I don’t want to be speaking out of line and not knowing exactly what I’m talking about until I know exactly what the problem was. We didn’t know that until Wednesday when we finally got cleared and they ran all the tests again to make sure that we were 100 percent. I don’t need to really justify a lot to a lot of people. I think the important people are NASCAR, my team guys and things like that. My health is my business and so I will give you all the facts and let you sift through them and do the best you can with them, but really I didn’t know everything that went on until Tuesday to Wednesday.”

When asked if he felt his reputation with fellow drivers, fans and the media may have been affected, Hamlin responded:

“I’m going to try not to get mad. My health is my business, but what if it was cancer or tumor? I don’t have to tell anyone that. It’s my business. People who thing negatively of me or think that we side-stepped some sort of drug test or something is ridiculous. I’m in one of the top-three cars in NASCAR, I would have to be an absolute moron to risk that. I have a daughter that I have to provide for a really long time. For people to question who I am inside and outside the race car, I’ve never done anything to even put that in question.

“I go to Bobcats games, I got out and hang out with friends out in public. I don’t stay tucked in my motorhome, I don’t stay tucked into my house, it’s not what I like to do. Because I’m out there a little bit more, people think I got out and I party. I got a wakeup call because I don’t drink at all hardly, ever. I’ve never done drugs, ever.

“I’m as clean as they come. I don’t know why people question who I am outside the race track. I worked too hard to get here to throw it all away. If anyone has any questions about that, they can ask me directly. People who assume, people like that … but it bothers me that my character is questioned.

“People think that there’s some kind of conspiracy. … I’m done justifying and defending myself on those things. I’m not going to let those people drag me down. … It just bothers me because there’s people that like to make rumors, and of course within our NASCAR community, rumors become truth when enough people say it.  I’m done.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

(Below is the original story from Friday morning before Hamlin spoke to the media:)

Denny Hamlin appeared in public and made his first comments since missing last Sunday’s race in California, showing up for practice and qualifying Friday at Martinsville Speedway, site of this Sunday’s STP 500.

A four-time winner at Martinsville, Hamlin was asked by Fox Sports’ Krista Voda how much pain he was in at Fontana.

“Enough,” Hamlin quipped before adding, “It was very agitated. The biggest problem was the metal had been in there for three days, so it began to rust.

“Once it started to rust, then it started to infect. That’s essentially what caused the major problem. But once we got it all out, it was good. It’s been a good week. Now we need to just come here to Martinsville and win this weekend.”

The agitation apparently didn’t impact Hamlin, as he broke both ends of the Martinsville track record with a lap of 18.932 seconds at 100.021 mph in the final two minutes of Friday afternoon’s pre-qualifying practice session.

Still, his interview with Voda failed to address several still lingering issues:

* How did doctors believe the metal sliver got into his eye in the first place?

* Where it’s believed the metal sliver originated from?

* Why did initial reports about his condition indicate he was suffering from a sinus infection that affected his vision, causing him to pull out of the race less than an hour before the green flag start?

Hamlin is due to meet with NASCAR media later Friday afternoon. (We will update this story if Hamlin makes additional revelations).

During the Fox interview, Hamlin wore large and dark sunglasses, most likely some form of protective measure, even though it was very cloudy and overcast.

Voda asked Hamlin about the sunglasses and “if there is any irritation or after-effects.”

“Yeah, it’ll probably be this way for a little while,” Hamlin said, “The doctor described it kind of like there’s a divot in the lens of my eyes, from where they had to dig it out.

“It’ll go away. It’s slightly agitated. Really, today is the only day it’s been agitated. It’s been fine the past three days. It’s just a small issue that grew into a big one and I hated that we had to miss last week.”

Even though he missed the race at Fontana, being treated at a nearby hospital while the event was being run (fill-in driver Sam Hornish Jr. finished 17th in Hamlin’s place), Hamlin still remains 11th in the Sprint Cup standings.

“With the new NASCAR format, this gives us an opportunity where all we have to do is work this weekend,” Hamlin said. “We have to win, I feel like we’re going to win, and it’ll all be in the past.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Latest Posts
  1. Graham Rahal now trails Montoya by nine points in IndyCar standings

    Aug 2, 2015, 6:14 PM EDT

    Juan Pablo Montoya Juan Pablo Montoya

    Montoyas 42-point lead over Rahal all but disappears in one race.

  2. Karam’s Mid-Ohio spin triggers frustration, skepticism from IndyCar paddock

    Aug 2, 2015, 5:56 PM EDT

    Photo: INDYCAR Photo: INDYCAR

    Sage Karam in the crosshairs again after controversial Lap 66 spin at Mid-Ohio.

  3. Rahal scores dream win on home soil in Honda 200 at Mid-Ohio

    Aug 2, 2015, 4:02 PM EDT

    © INDYCAR © INDYCAR

    Quick thinking from Rahal’s strategists allows the Ohio native to storm to his second win of the 2015 season and slice the gap to Montoya in the championship race.

  4. Helio Castroneves leads halfway through the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio

    Aug 2, 2015, 3:12 PM EDT

    Castroneves

    Castroneves led at halfway due to off-setting pit strategy.

  5. Lynn hopes GP2 win has put him in running for F1 seat

    Aug 2, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT

    © GP2 Series © GP2 Series

    Alex Lynn has made an impression during his rookie GP2 season, but can he make the step up to F1 in 2016?

  6. Dennis frustrated by lack of in-season testing in F1

    Aug 2, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT

    MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 06:  Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of McLaren Group Ron Dennis is seen during qualifying for the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 6, 2015 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) Getty Images

    McLaren’s CEO feels the reasons behind limiting in-season testing offer a “false economy”.

  7. WATCH LIVE: Honda Indy 200 at 1:30 p.m. ET on CNBC, Live Extra

    Aug 2, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    Ryan Hunter-Reay AP

    Watch live from Mid-Ohio ahead of the 14th round of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

  8. WRC: Latvala claims record-breaking win at Rally Finland

    Aug 2, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    Finnish Volkswagen Polo R WRC driver Jari-Matti Latvala and co-pilot Miikka Anttila drive during the Ouninpohja special stage of the  2015 FIA World Rally Championship WRC Rally Finland in Jyvaeskylae, Finland on July 31, 2015.  AFP PHOTO / LEHTIKUVA / Vesa Moilanen +++ FINLAND OUT        (Photo credit should read VESA MOILANEN/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Latvala wins on home soil for the second time in the WRC with a record-breaking display.

  9. What to watch for: IndyCar at Mid-Ohio (1:30 p.m. ET, CNBC and Live Extra)

    Aug 2, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT

    Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio - Day 3 Getty Images

    What to watch for ahead of Round 14 of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, the Honda Indy 200 from the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

  10. Hunter-Reay fastest in final Mid-Ohio warm up despite spinning out

    Aug 2, 2015, 10:24 AM EDT

    © INDYCAR © INDYCAR

    Hunter-Reay finishes on top ahead of Helio Castroneves and Jack Hawksworth despite crashing his car.

  11. Reports: Monza closing in on new F1 contract

    Aug 2, 2015, 9:35 AM EDT

    MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 07:  Fan leave the circuit following the F1 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 7, 2014 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The Italian Grand Prix looks set to remain at Monza beyond 2016 thanks to a tax-free investment from the Italian government.

  12. MRTI, PWC at Mid-Ohio: Several different winners emerge

    Aug 1, 2015, 7:00 PM EDT

    Photo: @ Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography Photo: @ Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

    Mazda Road to Indy and Pirelli World Challenge race updates from Mid-Ohio as they happen on one of the busiest road racing days of the year.

  13. Wehrlein takes lead of DTM championship in Austria

    Aug 1, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - MAY 03:  Pascal Wehrlein of Germany and Mercedes HWA looks on prior to the second race of the DTM 2015 German Touring Car Championship at Hockenheimring on May 3, 2015 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Mercedes F1 reserve driver finishes second at the Red Bull Ring to move into the lead of the DTM championship.

  14. Cole Custer sails to first career ARCA win at Pocono, 9th first-time winner in series in 2015

    Aug 1, 2015, 4:46 PM EDT

    cole custer Getty Images

    In his third career start in the ARCA Racing Series, Cole Custer breezed to victory in Saturday’s ModSpace 125 at Pocono Raceway.

  15. Dixon crushes lap record to score pole in Mid-Ohio (VIDEO)

    Aug 1, 2015, 4:21 PM EDT

    © INDYCAR © INDYCAR

    Dixon blisters previous mark for the track record at Mid-Ohio.

  16. Verstappen to take driving lessons over summer break

    Aug 1, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 25:  Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Scuderia Toro Rosso speaks with members of the media after qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 25, 2015 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images) Getty Images

    At 17, Verstappen is still too young to get a road driver’s licence in Belgium.

  17. Johansson: Haas has done its homework ahead of F1 entry

    Aug 1, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT

    CONCORD, NC - APRIL 14:  The media looks on as (L-R) Guenther Steiner, team principal of Haas Formula, Gene Haas, founder, Haas Automation and chairman, Haas Formula, and Mike Arning, True Speed Communications, speak during the Gene Haas Formula One Press Conference at the Concord Convention Center on April 14, 2014 in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Stefan Johansson, a veteran of over 100 F1 starts, argues the case of customer cars in F1.