Hamlin missed four races with the injury but started in the No. 11 Toyota Camry at the Aaron's 499 today.
He remained in the car until the 22nd lap, when the race had its first first caution flag, following the blown engine of Trevor Bayne. That allowed Hamlin to go to the pit and come out of the car in favor of relief driver Brian Vickers, who drove the car to a 34th-place finish.
"I feel good," Hamlin said after he turned over the car. "Every week I feel a lot better and really this is the best I've felt physically in, gosh, months since I felt this good. So, I'm definitely looking forward to going back to full competition next week."
Hamlin hung toward the back of the pack, with four drivers alongside to offer protection at one time or another -- Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Stewart, Michael Waltrip and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
"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 said Stewart approached him about offering protection last week at Hamlin's charity event in Richmond, Va.
"Tony ... said I want to work with you, depending on what your plan is for Talladega," Hamlin said. "Me and Tony, for whatever reason, when we stopped becoming teammates, we started becoming teammates. We've been closer off the race track and on the race track now that he's with Stewart-Haas than ever when we were with Gibbs (Racing).
"We've got a great relationship, and he's had my back really for the last three years."
Hamlin didn't mind having to drop back and essentially make a short Sunday drive on the track.
"I was enjoying it more than anything because it gave me something to do today," he said. "I knew in my head that I wasn't going to be competing today. I wasn't going to be in the middle of the pack trying to make passes. It was all about just going through the motions and getting the process of making a comeback -- getting that started."
Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter @MarkSportsStar.