FONTANA, Calif. -- Denny Hamlin has been diagnosed with a broken back -- an L1 compression fracture -- following a crash on the last lap of Sunday's Auto Club 400.
Hamlin remained hospitalized near Auto Club Speedway on Monday, as he met with doctors to determine the extent of his injury. He wrecked while racing for the lead with rival Joey Logano, a former teammate who initiated the contact.
According to Austin Peyton, Hamlin's day-to-day business manager, Hamlin is hoping to be released from the hospital today and fly home this afternoon to North Carolina for further evaluation by Dr. Jerry Petty of Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates later this week.
Hamlin is stable enough to return home, but Peyton said it is undetermined whether surgery will be needed or whether Hamlin might miss any races.
IndyCar Series driver Will Power suffered a compression fracture in his back in the October 2011 crash that killed Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Power was cleared to return to the car for a test less than four weeks later.
NASCAR's top-tier series is off this week for Easter and returns April 7 at Martinsville Speedway.
Hamlin was joined at the hospital overnight by right-hand man Peyton and Peyton's girlfriend, Rachel Rupert (Miss Coors Light). Hamlin's parents and girlfriend, Jordan Fish, did not make the trip to Fontana for the race and remained in North Carolina. Hamlin has a two-month-old daughter with Fish.
The feud between Hamlin and Logano started after the Daytona 500, when Hamlin sarcastically tweeted that Logano was a "genius" for "messing up the inside line" during the race.
Three weeks later, at Bristol, Hamlin nudged Logano into the wall after he felt Logano was cutting him off while racing for second place. Though Hamlin said he did not mean to cause damage to Logano's car, Logano was incensed and vowed to return the favor if he could.
After the race, Logano went to Hamlin's car to confront him, but was pulled away as crew members exchanged shoves.
Later, the two exchanged unpleasant tweets â?? which ended with Hamlin telling Logano to "hush little child."
The newfound rivalry carried over to Fontana, where Logano made it clear he was still angry despite Hamlin's expressed desire to move on.
Hamlin told reporters he regretted making a comment about Logano's ability to hang with him on the track, but Logano said he would race Hamlin "the way he raced me" and said there would be no resolution "until anyone says anything to me personally."
No one may expected the rivalry to manifest itself on the track Sunday, but that's exactly what happened. Hamlin, who started on the pole, and Logano battled side-by-side over the final few laps and were still clashing when Kyle Busch snuck by both on the high side for his first win of the season.
As Busch drove by, Logano drifted up into Hamlin and sent him toward the wall; Hamlin then had a violent collision with the inside retaining wall, where there was no SAFER barrier (or "soft wall") installed.
Logano, unaware of Hamlin's injury, suggested after the race that the driver got what he deserved for his actions at Bristol. Hamlin was airlifted to a local hospital, where he stayed overnight.
Hamlin has previously struggled with back problems; his father also has had a bad back, and Hamlin believes it's genetic. His back occasionally locks up, and he's undergone rehab and injections to try and make it better.
It's unclear whether the Fontana injury is connected to or exacerbated by Hamlin's existing back problems.
Follow Jeff Gluck on Twitter @jeff_gluck