Denny Hamlin not cleared to race

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Denny Hamlin will not make his return to the Sprint Cup Series this weekend at his home track of Richmond International Raceway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who has missed the past three races recovering from a compression fracture in his lower back, tweeted the news on Wednesday after getting results from his latest scan.

"Unfortunately I won't be racing this weekend at Richmond," Hamlin wrote on Twitter. "It kills me to not be in the car for my team and sponsors but after long discussions with the doctors we have decided to wait on my return back to racing.

"Thanks to all of my fans who have sent encouraging messages over the last month. I'll be back in no time.''

Hamlin told ESPN.com last weekend at Kansas Speedway that, if not cleared for Richmond, he likely would start the May 5 race at Talladega Superspeedway and give way to a backup driver after the first caution.

That would allow him to collect points for whatever finish his backup driver -- Brian Vickers -- collects and give him a better chance of climbing back into contention for a wild-card spot for the Chase.

Hamlin is 26th in points, 42 behind the top 20 where a driver has to be after 26 races to contend for a wild-card spot based on wins. He will fall further behind by missing Saturday night's race.

Hamlin was expected to miss six weeks after injuring his back on a last-lap crash against a concrete barrier in the March 24 race at Auto Club Speedway in California. That would have put his scheduled return at the May 11 race at Darlington.

He had hoped this week's scan showed enough bone growth for doctors to feel comfortable with him in the car at Richmond.

"If everything works out, and if I feel the way the scan looks, we're going to be in good shape for Richmond," Hamlin said Saturday after the final practice for Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway.

Hamlin won't have another scan until the week before Darlington, but he is optimistic doctors will let him start the race at Talladega and ride around the back of the field until the first caution.

"Ultimately, it's just a risk thing," Hamlin said. "Ultimately, I can drive the car as fast as anyone out there by myself. It's taking hits that obviously the risk falls in. They feel confident I can ride around in the back at Talladega and not get in any trouble until the first caution comes out."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.