Veteran driver to return to No. 55 ride at Texas; Vickers to take over No. 11
Michael Waltrip Racing announced late Friday afternoon that Martin would return to his No. 55 car April 13 at Texas Motor Speedway, rather that pilot Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 11 entry for the entire time Hamlin is out recovering from a fractured vertebra in his lower back.
"We wish Denny a speedy recovery. Mark is a big part of our organization and committed to our sponsors, especially Aaron’s and Toyota."
On Thursday, JGR announced that Martin would pilot the No. 11 while Hamlin is recuperating from his injury suffered in a crash last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.
After MWR's Friday release, JGR announced that Brian Vickers -- who drives the No. 20 Gibbs entry in the Nationwide Series -- will race the No. 11 JGR Sprint Cup ride, beginning at Texas.
"Obviously having to find someone to fill in for Denny is not an ideal situation to have to be in and when you start a process like this you obviously begin to look at the drivers that are not only available but also able to drive for your race team and manufacturer. We were a bit premature in determining Mark’s status past Martinsville however," said J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing, in a statement. "We're real happy to have the opportunity to get Brian in our Cup cars and with him driving Nationwide for us we think we have some continuity there that is beneficial."
Vickers is slated to drive MWR’s No. 55 car at Martinsville, allowing Martin to pilot the No. 11 car that weekend. MWR and JGR both field Toyotas.
On the advice of doctors, Hamlin is sitting out six weeks, which means the earliest he can return is May 11 at Darlington. Martin will fill in for Hamlin next weekend at Martinsville Speedway. But according to MWR’s announcement Friday, Martin will be back in his usual ride the following week at Texas and then resume his regular schedule of events for MWR – a slate that also includes Kansas and Richmond, events Hamlin also is scheduled to miss.
“I think it is great that a driver of Mark’s caliber is available to support our fellow Toyota team during this difficult time for them,” Waltrip said in a statement. “We wish Denny a speedy recovery. Mark is a big part of our organization and committed to our sponsors, especially Aaron’s and Toyota. We have a lot of goals yet to reach this year, and we are very focused on accomplishing them.”
On Sirius XM NASCAR Radio on Friday, Waltrip said, "We agreed that Mark would drive (the No. 11) at Martinsville, and we were working through what it would look like after that. For some reason, before we got it all figured out, a press release was put out. I guess it said that Mark would drive it until Denny was better, and that just wasn't what we agreed to yet."
Waltrip is slated to drive the No. 55 car May 5 at Talladega.
Hamlin suffered a compression fracture of his L1 vertebra in the crash last Sunday, when he hit an inside wall after making contact with former teammate Joey Logano, with whom he was battling for the victory on the final lap.
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