NASCAR veteran Mark Martin will replace Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 car while Hamlin is out for the next five races. Hamlin suffered a compression fracture in his L1 vertebra during the last lap of the Auto Club 400 a week ago.
Hamlin was in a battle for the lead with Joey Logano before spinning out and coming to a rest near the pits. The battle gave Kyle Busch enough momentum to take the lead just before the finish line for the win. Hamlin was sent to the hospital after the race but was released soon after and re-evaluated by Dr. Jerry Petty of Carolina Neurosurgery and Spine Associates this past Tuesday.
Petty determined Hamlin’s injury would not require surgery, though the 32-year-old will have to miss the next six weeks which includes five races. Mark Martin was set to drive the No.55 car in three of the five races Hamlin will miss but will now take over the No. 11 car as Joe Gibbs Racing will look to Elliot Sadler and Brian Vickers to cover the No. 55.
Both Sadler and Vickers are full-time Nationwide Series drivers for JGR in 2013. The two have combined for five career Cup wins and were also in the hunt to replace Hamlin.
Martin will run every race in the No. 11 car during Hamlin’s absence except for Talladega, which Michael Waltrip is expected to drive. Martin’s limited race schedule going into the season turned into a blessing for JGR who couldn’t have found a better replacement.
Mark Martin has started in 858 Sprint Cup races and won 40 times throughout his career. The 54-year-old is also second all-time with 49 Nationwide Series wins.
Martin’s age is catching up with him, but it hasn’t shown on the track, as he has five pole positions in his last 27-starts, including the pole at Phoenix earlier this March before finishing 21st.
Martin’s best finish on the season came at Daytona when he finished 3rd but struggled last week at Fontana after qualifying ninth. Martin hit the wall late in the race and finished 37th, his worst finish of the season.
Hamlin’s devastating news came at the worst possible time as he currently holds onto the tenth spot in the chase but finding a future NASCAR Hall of Famer as his replacement might make him feel a little better. Can Mark Martin help the No. 11 car stay in the chase over the next five races as Denny Hamlin heals from the big wreck at Fontana?
[Image via US Army Racing]