By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
MARTINSVILLE, Va.-In picking Brian Vickers to substitute for Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing got a driver who can empathize with what Hamlin is feeling while he waits to return to his car.
Vickers will start a stint of indeterminate length in the No. 11 Toyota next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, as Hamlin continues to recover from a compression fracture of the first lumbar vertebra suffered during a last-lap crash Mar. 24 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
Make no mistake. Driving the No. 11 Camry is an important opportunity for Vickers, who is running a nine-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing, including Sunday's STP Gas Booster 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
But Vickers has mixed feelings about the circumstances that will put him behind the wheel of Hamlin's car. Much of Vickers' ambivalence stems from a medical condition that forced him out of his ride at Red Bull Racing in 2011. Suffering from blood clots in his legs and lungs, Vickers missed the last six months of the season while he recuperated.
"Next week I'm going to be in the 11 car, which I'm obviously excited about, but sad how the opportunity came about," Vickers said Friday morning at Martinsville. "I know what it's like to be pulled out of your car for health reasons -- I've been in that boat before and wish Denny a speedy recovery.
"I'll do the best job I can for him and (sponsor) FedEx and everyone at Gibbs and Toyota until he returns ... Again, I reiterate it's very sad how it happened because I've been on the receiving end of this. I'm happy to jump in and do the best I can."
Hamlin is expected to miss five races, but that number is inexact, pending the speed of his recovery and a green light from his doctors.
YOU CAN BLOCK, BUT EXPECT CONSEQUENCES
Denny Hamlin's wreck, the result of hard racing from Joey Logano as both drivers battled for the win at Fontana, wasn't the only nastiness that occurred at the two-mile track.
On the final restart, Logano blocked Tony Stewart and broke his momentum, costing Stewart a chance to win the race. After the race, an angry Stewart confronted Logano on pit road, as crew members struggled to restrain the drivers.
Asked for his take on the incident Friday at Martinsville, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson said blocking has always been a part of Cup racing and probably always will be. But, Johnson added, it's important to be aware of whom you're blocking.
"Blocking is part of what we do, and sometimes it works in your favor, and other times it doesn't," Johnson said Friday before Cup practice. "Sometimes a driver will understand it, and other times they don't. Those are decisions we all make on the track, and when you are in the sport long enough, you realize what those decisions could lead to and, honestly, who you throw a block on...
"I assume, when you see the 14 (Stewart), you probably expect something is going to happen. He has made that known over the years, so there are guys that you probably don't want to do that to. But then again, at the end of the race, I feel like things go to the next level and they change, and to defend for a win you have to take some extreme measures at times."
ARE BYGONES REALLY BYGONES?
As far as the blocking issue at Fontana is concerned, both Tony Stewart and Joey Logano indicated Friday that the incident is in the rear-view mirror.
Though Stewart says his stance on blocking hasn't changed, he deflected a question about his promise to teach Logano a lesson.
"That's two weeks ago," Stewart said. "I'm on Martinsville this weekend. We're trying to figure out what we need to do to make our race cars go fast this week."
From Logano's point of view, the off week in the Cup schedule has helped.
"I feel like, with Tony and I, it's pretty much over," Logano said during a question-and-answer session behind his transporter. "We have not talked to each other, but we had an off weekend and time to relax a little bit and cool off, so I feel like that's over. I feel like we're moving on."
What remains to be seen is how Logano and Stewart will treat each other when they're in close proximity on the track. No matter what the drivers might say, race fans around the world will be watching to see if actions speak louder than words.
Elliott Sadler will drive a fourth Joe Gibbs Racing car in three NASCAR Sprint Cup races under sponsorship from Alert Energy Caffeine Gum, the team announced Friday. Sadler will be behind
The wheel of the No. 81 Toyota Camry at Kansas (Apr. 21) and at both Talladega races (May 5 and Oct. 20). ...
Mark Martin, who is subbing for Denny Hamlin this weekend, is convinced controversy is a good thing when it comes to raising the profile of the sport. "It makes for really good TV to have the controversy," Martin said. "It's good for the sport to have rivals and controversy. I don't particularly want to be in one, but I certainly don't mind watching one."