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From The Marbles

Mark Martin drives off without left front wheel secure, still finishes 10th

Mark Martin's substitute turn behind the wheel of the No. 11 car looked to take a disastrous turn during a mid-race pit stop.

Already a lap down, the jack accidentally dropped while Martin's crew was changing the tires on the left side of the car. Given that's the signal for a driver to mash the gas out of his pit stall, Martin took off with the left side tire on the wheel but not securely in place.

Martin, driving for Denny Hamlin, who was atop the pit box, didn't get far before the tire started to wobble off the car. He then had to back up into his stall so that the crew could complete the pit stop. Throughout that process, Martin lost another lap.

But at least Martin was back in the race. That incident could have bent the left-front wheel and compromised the steering on Martin's car. It didn't. And in another turn of good fortune, Martin didn't spend much time two laps down either and rallied to finish 10th.

Much like Danica Patrick and others, Martin snagged the wave-around on consecutive caution flags and got back on the lead lap as Hamlin nervously watched from both the inside wall and on the box.

And when he got back on the lead lap, Martin didn't lose it again, despite the cosmetic damage on his car from an early race restart shuffle and he stayed out again on the race's final restart, holding off the drivers behind him on fresh tires.

You could tell how hard it was for Hamlin to not be in the car throughout the race at a track that's one of his best. In 15 starts, Hamlin has won four times and led 1139 laps, and after the race, he promised to give Sunday's winner Jimmie Johnson a battle when the Cup Series returns in October.

Proud of @55markmartin today. He did my team well today. @jimmiejohnson won't have it that easy in the fall I promise. Congrats to them

— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) April 7, 2013

Saturday at Texas, Martin returns to the cockpit of the No. 55 while Brian Vickers, who finished 11th in the No. 55 this week, slides over to the No. 11 for the duration of Hamlin's recovery, which is expected to last four more races.

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