Mark Martin will replace Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 Toyota during Hamlin’s recovery from a back injury, according to a news release provided by the Joe Gibbs Racing team Thursday.
Hamlin suffered an L1 compression fracture in a crash on the final lap of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on Sunday.
Upon his return to North Carolina, Hamlin was evaluated by Dr. Jerry Petty of Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates. Dr. Petty’s diagnosis was that Hamlin, 32, would not require surgery, but would be sidelined to give his injury time to heal. Petty estimated the length of Hamlin’s recovery at six weeks.
“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,” said J.D. Gibbs, president of JGR. “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.
Martin is currently competing for Michael Waltrip Racing, which also fields Toyotas, on a limited schedule. He was not scheduled to be in the team’s No. 55 Camry for the April 7 event at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway; however, he was slated to drive for MWR at the next three events after next week’s race -- Texas, Kansas and Richmond.
Brian Vickers is scheduled to compete for MWR at Martinsville, while team co-owner Michael Waltrip returns to the seat for the May 5 Cup race at Talladega, Ala.
Rodney Childers, Martin's crew chief at MWR, tweeted: "This will be like me loaning my girlfriend to my best friend for 4 weeks to see if I like this other girl moving fwd.. It will be very hard. But overall, this will show a lot of people that we work a lot closer with JGR than most people think we do."
If Hamlin is out for the entire six weeks, he would return the following week, May 10-11, when the series heads to Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
According to JGR officials, Martin has one previous start with the team, a runner-up finish in a Nationwide Series event in 2012 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
A veteran with more than 850 career starts in Cup, Martin is a 40-time winner in the series. His last Cup win came in 2009 while competing for Hendrick Motorsports.
“I’m happy to have this opportunity to help out JGR, FedEx and Denny,” Martin said. “Hopefully I can keep those guys up front and compete for wins while Denny heals up.”
He has 48 career starts at Martinsville, an 0.526-mile track, with two wins (1992 and 2000). He has a career average finish of 13.3 there.
Hamlin, 10th in the points standings after the season’s first five races, said he was supportive of Martin’s willingness to step in for him.
“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,” he said. “Like everyone in NASCAR, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mark and I know he will keep that (car) up front until I get back behind the wheel.”