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NASCAR Notebook: Hamlin will make early call on relief driver

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Denny Hamlin says he'll know before Saturday's Subway Fresh Fit 600 is 100 laps old whether he'll require the services of Casey Mears as a relief driver.

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Denny Hamlin says he'll know before Saturday's Subway Fresh Fit 600 is 100 laps old whether he'll require the services of Casey Mears as a relief driver.

Two days after winning the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville, Hamlin had surgery March 31 to repair the torn ACL in his left knee, an injury sustained in a pickup basketball game in late January.

Mears, who practiced Hamlin's car during a portion of Friday's first session, will stand by as a relief driver if Hamlin can't go the distance.

"I don't know how far I'll go," said Hamlin, who will have the knee drained and stitches removed before Saturday's race at Phoenix International Raceway. "I mean, it definitely aches quite a bit, and the problem is range of motion. I can't get my knee bent far enough to put (my foot) on top of the pedal. ...

"My goal is to know what I'm going to do--I don't know--before Lap 100. I mean, there's no reason, if I go past Lap 100, that I decide to change and abort. I need to just tough it out at that point. We've got to do it early. And I'll know early what I've got. But there's so much different stuff that we're going to do tomorrow morning to help this thing that I don't know how much better I'll feel tomorrow. But I know, as of today, there's no way I could do it."

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Hamlin, who qualified his No. 11 Toyota 26th Friday, declined to discuss any medication he is taking for the pain, but NASCAR spokesperson Ramsey Poston said Hamlin had met all the criteria to be cleared to drive through NASCAR's medical liaison, Dr. David Black of Aegis Labs. Aegis administers the sanctioning body's drug testing policy.

Hamlin also provided written clearance to drive from his personal physician.

TREACHEROUS TRACK

The weather was hot and the track surface slick for Friday's Cup practice sessions. How tough were the racing conditions? Tough enough to make Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Marcos Ambrose spin their cars off Turn 2.

Several drivers complained of tire chatter at the 1-mile track, but the tire combination Goodyear brought for Saturday's race is the same used for the Cup series last year.

"I'm not going to blame the tire--I'm just saying the tire to the surface is a little different from what we've had in the past," Busch said. "It might be the same tire, but for some reason, today it feels really different. I think this is probably the hottest we've ever had it here, track temp(erature)-wise. It feels warm, and it's kind of slick down in (Turns) 1 and 2."

Kyle's brother, Kurt Busch, thought the change from a rear wing to a spoiler on the Cup car, which took effect for the March 29 Martinsville race, might be a factor.

"I feel like there is a little less side-force with the spoiler back on the car," he said. "We'll see how it shakes out in weeks to come. It was just a hot surface today."

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GORDON: NO GRUDGE AGAINST KENSETH

On the final restart of last month's Martinsville Cup race, Matt Kenseth bumped leader Jeff Gordon in Turn 1. Gordon returned the favor by running Kenseth down to the apron entering Turn 3.

Gordon finished third, and Kenseth came home 18th after drifting high in the corner as the other lead-lap cars streamed past. To Gordon, the incident is no longer an issue.

"I don't try to go back and rehash old past history," Gordon said Friday. "I just know that they dropped the green, I went through the gears, I went into Turn 1 and I got hit. And I was upset about it. I had an opportunity to get back to him and I did.

"I think it stinks for Matt because he finished pretty far back, but I feel like at the moment it stunk for me, too, because it took our chance of winning that race away. What goes on further than that, I have no idea. I like Matt a lot. I love racing with him. I talked to him Sunday night after the race and I don't think those conversations really do much good, but I was glad that we talked about it anyway.

"I definitely want him to know that I don't have anything against him, and I don't. It was pretty plain and simple. If you hit me, I'm going to hit you back. That's where I leave it."

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