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NASCAR's Denny Hamlin eager to return at Martinsville

Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Denny Hamlin has had a difficult time getting back up to speed after suffering a back injury last season.

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) -- Being told he couldn't race last weekend because of an eye and vision problem will not make Denny Hamlin less likely to seek the help of medical staffs available at NASCAR tracks every weekend, he said Friday.

Hamlin let Sam Hornish Jr. drive his car last weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., after he sought the assistance of the on-site medical team when his face swelled up and his vision blurred.

Initially thought to be a sinus infection, it turned out to be a small piece of metal in his eye, Hamlin said at Martinsville Speedway. Hamlin said he doesn't blame the two doctors who examined him for failing to see the rusting metal, and it wasn't until he saw an optometrist that it was discovered, removed, and he started feeling better.

"It took someone who was in the business of eyes to find it," he said.

Hamlin has been cleared to return this weekend at Martinsville Speedway, where he has won four times, and he took umbrage at the notion that his reputation might have been tarnished when he missed the race.

"People who think negatively of me or think that we side-stepped some sort of drug test or something is ridiculous," he said, adding that he was making an effort not to get angry at the suggestion that something untoward was afoot. "I'm in one of the top-three cars in NASCAR. I would have to be an absolute moron - moron - to risk that."

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who originally said he was concerned about Hamlin's point of view about how he wound up being told he couldn't race, said his concern wasn't for the medical team's competency, but for his fellow driver.

"I feel great about the process and what NASCAR has had in place for years," Earnhardt said.

NASCAR travels with two registered nurses who have access to each driver's medical records each week, and tracks work with local doctors and hospitals to staff a full trauma unit when cars are on the track.

Hamlin, 34, said he's frustrated by spending so much time answering medical questions. The Fontana race was where he sustained a broken back a year ago, and he rushed back into competition hoping to make the playoffs, but came up short.

"I feel better than I ever have," he said. "Pilates has changed my life as far as my back is concerned. My back is no longer an issue - knock on wood. Everything - you hate getting attention for those reasons, but a lot of it is because we haven't won a whole lot over these last year and a half.

"We're going to change that this weekend."

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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