Motorsports

Martin to occupy seat in Hamlin’s absence

jutter@charlotteobserver.comMarch 28, 2013 

How fast things change in NASCAR.

Joe Gibbs Racing held a teleconference Thursday morning, when team president J.D. Gibbs said the organization had to settle on a replacement driver for injured Denny Hamlin.

Less than eight hours later, JGR released a statement announcing Mark Martin would drive the No. 11 Toyota for the races Hamlin misses.

“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 Gibbs. “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. “

Hamlin suffered a compression fracture of his L1 vertebra in a violent last-lap wreck during Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race in Fontana, Calif. After contact with Joey Logano’s car while racing for the lead, his car hit a wall not covered by energy-absorbing SAFER barriers.

On Tuesday, the team announced Hamlin would miss at least six weeks – at least five races – while the fracture heals.

Martin will make his first start for JGR on April 7 at Martinsville, Va.

“I’m happy to have this opportunity,” said Martin, who was running a partial schedule with Michael Waltrip Racing. “Hopefully I can keep those guys up front and compete for wins while Denny heals up.”

MWR didn’t announce who will drive the No. 55 Toyota in Martin’s absence, but it most likely will be Brian Vickers, who already is to run several races in the car this season.

Rodney Childers, crew chief on the No. 55, posted a note on his Twitter account Thursday night about the news:

“When you’re the one team in the garage that has a stacked house of drivers, I knew from the beginning that it may affect my team in some way.”

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