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Joe Gibbs Racing announced on Thursday evening that Mark Martin will pilot the Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Toyota while he recovers from an L1 Compression Fracture suffered at Auto Club Speedway last weekend. Martin had originally been scheduled to pilot the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55 Toyota for four of the next six races; instead, he’ll do all six while moving over to a JGR team that contended for the championship last season.
“I’m happy to have this opportunity to help out JGR, FedEx and Denny,” said Martin. “Hopefully I can keep those guys up front and compete for wins while Denny heals up.”
JGR President J.D. Gibbs expressed his confidence in the part-time Sprint Cup driver.
“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,” 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.”
Martin’s record in the Sprint Cup Series, extending over three decades is stellar. In 858 career starts, he has 40 wins, 271 top 5s, and 449 top 10s. Since scaling back to a part-time schedule, with MWR’s No. 55 Martin has led over 250 laps and scored five poles, five top 5s and 15 top 10s in 28 starts.
While he hates being sidelined, Denny Hamlin also voiced his support for the 54-year-old, who’s trying to become the oldest driver in NASCAR history to win a Cup Series race.
“I really appreciate Mark being able to fill in for me,” said Hamlin. “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.”
According to a report from USA Today, Rodney Childers, crew chief for the No. 55 MWR Toyota, tweeted — and deleted — his thoughts on Martin’s temporary move to JGR.
“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,” he said. “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.”
As of press time, MWR had not announced their plans to replace Martin. It’s widely expected, however that Brian Vickers will fill the seat in the No. 55, an extended audition of sorts as the company looks for a full-time replacement for Martin in 2014.
Frontstretch had initially reported, from several sources Elliott Sadler was the primary sub for Hamlin, but input from sponsor Fed Ex, as well as the surprising last minute willingness for Martin to swap for all dates – not just a few – turned things in a different direction. Sadler, who was originally scheduled to run a fourth Cup car in a limited schedule with Joe Gibbs Racing will continue in that role, racing at Kansas and Talladega coming up.
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