Denny Hamlin removes self from Food City 500 after suffering neck spasm


BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Denny Hamlin suffered a neck spasm Sunday and was replaced by Joe Gibbs Racing development driver Erik Jones for the remainder of the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Hamlin said he pulled something in his neck during the 22 laps that were run prior to a rain delay of nearly four hours. He was running fifth when the race was halted. The 18-year-old Jones, who has never competed in a Cup car, got in the JGR No. 11 car when the race resumed Sunday night.

"I just pulled something in my neck to upper back about lap 12," Hamlin said during the race telecast. "I started going backwards at that point. ... I stretched it out and we've been working on it the last few hours. I'm not 100 percent. With this format, it's all about winning, and there was no way I would have been able to go out there and compete for a win.

"It's just doing my team a complete injustice for me to go out there and run a bunch of laps. Instead, I think it's just better to have Erik come here and run some laps, get used to these Cup cars. We know where he is going to be in a few years."

The 18-year-old Jones earned his first career Xfinity Series victory last week at Texas Motor Speedway. He is expected to get some starts in the JGR No. 18 Sprint Cup car in place of the injured Kyle Busch before Busch returns sometime this summer.

Jones had to restart at the rear of the field when the race resumed. Hamlin, who is already virtually guaranteed a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup with his win this year at Martinsville, will earn the points for where Jones finishes the race because Hamlin started the event.