Joe Gibbs Racing has found its replacement driver for the No. 11 while Denny Hamlin is out and it's Mark Martin.
The 54 year-old, who is driving a partial schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing in the No. 55, will fill in for Hamlin while he's out because of the L1 vertebra compression fracture he suffered in Sunday's last lap crash at Auto Club Speedway. Hamlin will be out a minimum of five races.
“We’ve been real fortunate to have never been in this situation with the need to find someone to fill in for an injured driver,” Joe Gibbs Racing president JD Gibss said in a statement. “A lot goes into a decision like this but we are really pleased to have someone of the character and caliber of Mark Martin to fill in while Denny is out. Obviously we’re not exactly sure how long that is going to take, but Mark’s career speaks for itself and our team knows it will have the opportunity to compete for a win every week.”
Martin was slated to drive in 26 races for MWR this season, including three of the five races that Hamlin will miss. Next week at Martinsville, Brian Vickers is to be behind the wheel of the No. 55 and team owner Waltrip will drive at Talladega. No replacement has been announced for Texas, Kansas and Richmond, the three races Martin was scheduled to drive in, and Vickers is a likely candidate to replace him.
Vickers, who is driving full-time for JGR in the Nationwide Series this year, was considered one of the candidates to sub in the No. 11 car, as was the team's other full-time Nationwide Series driver, Elliott Sadler. Between the two, they have 694 Cup starts and five wins. Instead, Martin, a driver with 858 Sprint Cup Series starts and 40 wins was chosen.
“I’m happy to have this opportunity to help out JGR, FedEx and Denny,” Martin said in the statement. “Hopefully I can keep those guys up front and compete for wins while Denny heals up.”
If his performance for Waltrip is any indication, Martin statement should be true. In 24 starts last year, Martin had 10 top 10s and qualified on the pole four times.
“I just hate not being able to be in the car right now, but I really appreciate Mark being able to fill in for me,” Hamlin said in the team release. “Like everyone in NASCAR, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mark and I know he will keep that FedEx Camry up front until I get back behind the wheel.”
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