CHARLOTTE Mark Martin will drive for Joe Gibbs Racing while Denny Hamlin recovers from a fractured vertebra in his lower back.
Martin’s first start in the No. 11 Toyota will be next week at Martinsville Speedway, where he wasn’t scheduled to race. Brian Vickers had been tabbed to drive Martin’s car for Michael Waltrip Racing at Martinsville.
“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,” team President J.D. Gibbs said. “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.”
The 54-year-old Martin has driven one other time for JGR, in the Nationwide Series last year at Las Vegas, where he finished second.
Hamlin is expected to miss at least five races while he heals. JGR didn’t specify how long Martin will be in the car, but the fifth race is at Talladega, a track Martin has opted to skip the past few years.
“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 a statement. “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.”
Martin has made 858 Cup starts in his 31 seasons in NASCAR’s top series.
MWR didn’t announce who will drive Martin’s No. 55 Toyota in his absence, but it will most likely be Vickers, who was slotted to drive nine of Martin’s races this year. The team is believed to be considering Vickers as Martin’s potential replacement, and this would give MWR a lengthier preview.
Earlier Thursday, Gibbs said his preference was to use one driver in the No. 11 while Hamlin is sidelined. The organization has Elliott Sadler and Vickers running Nationwide Series cars, but neither was free of commitments to drive Hamlin’s Cup car.
Vickers had the Martinsville conflict and Sadler has a deal with sponsorship to run a fourth JGR car at Kansas and Talladega.
Hamlin was injured in a last-lap crash Sunday with former JGR teammate Joey Logano while the two were racing for the win at California. Hamlin’s car hit head-on into an inside wall, and he was hospitalized overnight in California.
An examination in North Carolina on Tuesday by Dr. Jerry Petty determined Hamlin needed at least six weeks of rest to heal. It was devastating news to Hamlin, who was 10th in the Sprint Cup standings and has never missed making the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship since his 2006 rookie season.
The organization has done its own math and determined that Hamlin can still make the Chase this year providing he wins races once he returns to the car.