Denny Hamlin full speed ahead

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FONTANA, Calif. -- Four races. Four different winners.

Will a fifth driver emerge in Victory Lane this weekend at Auto Club Speedway?

That is one storyline we'll be tracking during Sunday's Auto Club 400 (3 p.m. ET, Fox). Here are five others:

Hamlin's house of horrors

Quick: Who won the 2013 Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway?

I'll give you a minute to Google it.

Now, which driver experienced a season-threatening back injury in a last-lap wreck in that race? Of course you knew it was Denny Hamlin. It's not often the winner of a Sprint Cup event gets trumped on race day, but Kyle Busch took a backseat to this story.

Hamlin, remember, was in a final-lap duel with former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano when the two cars tangled, sending the No. 11 Toyota head-on into an inside retaining wall. Hamlin staggered out of his car and was airlifted to a nearby hospital, where he was diagnosed with a compression fracture of the lower back. He missed the next four races.

On March 25, 2013, Hamlin tweeted a photo of himself in a hospital bed giving a thumbs-up with the message: "All good".

A year later, he's still trying to put that incident fully in his rearview.

"It was a bad weekend for sure and obviously affected the rest of our season and beyond," Hamlin told reporters Friday. "It's just you have to move on and you have to deal with the adversity and be stronger from it. That's what I'm trying to do...

"Coming in here, I think the only time I thought about the wreck was the first corner going off in Turn 3 the first lap of practice where you kind of think about what happened and things like that. But literally you're running such speeds here and you're on edge so much that the next time I came around it was an afterthought and I haven't thought of it since."

Hamlin, who has a history of degenerative back ailments, says he's healthier now than he's been in years. His focus remains trying to recapture the championship-contending form of 2010 and '12, when he won a combined 13 times.

Redemption, or revenge against Logano, isn't a consideration.

"Really, worrying about retaliating and holding grudges and things like that takes away from the time you need to be preparing for the upcoming event," Hamlin said. "Especially when you're on the track; it's hard enough to pass in these cars, so you have to concentrate in these cars at all times about what you're going to do to run the best lap you can and not, 'Hey, I need to get to this guy or that guy to retaliate.' It's just a different mindset now. It's not like it used to be in the '90s and '80s and things like that when we saw these spats. It's a different kind of racing."

Logano
Logano

Logano, too, has moved on.

"I feel like we're fine," the Penske Racing driver said last week at Bristol. "A year is a long time. It's over now."

Oddly, Hamlin's No. 11 Toyota and Logano's No. 22 Ford were parked alongside each other in the ACS garage Friday. Irony?

Hamlin downplayed the coincidence.

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