NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
 
       === Hamlin runs 24 laps at Talladega before Vickers takes over ===
 
 Talladega,  AL (Sports Network) - Denny Hamlin competed in a Sprint Cup Series
 race for the first time on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway since he suffered
 a  serious back injury  during an accident six weeks ago at Auto Club Speedway
 in Fontana, Calif.
 
 Hamlin ran the first 23 laps under green at Talladega before the first caution
 came  on lap  24 when fluid from  Trevor Bayne's expired engine dropped on the
 track.  Hamlin  pitted on the following  lap and made the driver exchange with
 Brian  Vickers in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. The driver exchange took
 slightly more than 1 minute, as Vickers was able to keep the No. 11 car on the
 lead lap. He ran in the 36th position for the restart on lap 29.
 
 "The  exchange went  great," Hamlin  said.  "That was  about as  smooth as  it
 could've  been for  us. I  was  able to  get  out, and  everything went  well.
 Obviously,  we've  had a few repetitions  at it. I  had a checklist in the car
 with  things that I  needed to do before I got out to switch over for the next
 driver. Everything went seamless and painless."
 
 Starting  seventh due  to  qualifying  being rained  out  on Saturday,  Hamlin
 quickly  dropped back to the tail end of the field. He played it safe in hopes
 of  not being  caught up in a major  wreck had it happened in the early going.
 Tony  Stewart, Michael  Waltrip, Juan Pablo Montoya and rookie Ricky Stenhouse
 Jr.  were those drivers who rode in the back with Hamlin to offer him drafting
 help.
 
 "I  can't thank them enough," Hamlin said. "It means a lot as a driver to have
 your peers that have got your back like that."
 
 Hamlin  had missed  the last  four races  -- Martinsville,  Texas, Kansas  and
 Richmond  --  after he was diagnosed  with a compression fracture in his lower
 back  from his accident  in Fontana. He plans to run the full distance in next
 Saturday's 500-mile race at Darlington.
 
 Vickers  time in the car was short-lived, though, when he was involved in "the
 big  one" -- a  16-car accident -- that occurred in turn 1 on lap 42. He spent
 more  than  40 laps in  the garage for repairs  before returning to the track.
 Vickers had moved into the top-10 before the incident happened.
 
 The  major wreck was caused when Kyle Busch nudged Kasey Kahne from behind and
 put him into the outside wall while they were running in a tight pack of cars.
 Kevin  Harvick, who  won  last weekend's  race at  Richmond,  and Greg  Biffle
 suffered damage to their cars as well.
 
 After  124  laps, rain began  falling on  this 2.66-mile superspeedway for the
 third caution. NASCAR displayed the red flag one lap later to stop the race as
 the rain had intensified.
 
 05/05 18:08:40 ET

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