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Vickers has been in Hamlin's shoes before

April 05, 2013, Kenny Bruce,

Hamlin's fill-in has been forced to sit and watch due to past health issues

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Brian Vickers has a very good idea of what Denny Hamlin is going through these days.

Vickers will fill in for the injured Joe Gibbs Racing driver for four of the five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races Hamlin is expected to miss due to an L1 vertebra compression fracture suffered in a last-lap crash at Auto Club Speedway. Vickers’ first start with the No. 11 team is scheduled for next week at Texas Motor Speedway.

Vickers missed 25 races in 2010 after he was diagnosed with blood clots. He has since returned to competition, racing full time with JGR in the Nationwide Series and splitting seat time with Mark Martin and co-team owner Michael Waltrip on the Cup side for Michael Waltrip Racing.

"The first time I saw my car go around the race track, I wasn't sure if I was ever going to get back in it."

-- Brian Vickers

“You grow up and you watch a lot of races that you're not in, but not ones that you're supposed to be in when your car is going around the race track,” Vickers said Friday at Martinsville Speedway. “… I think the best thing for him right now is knowing that he’s going to get back in the car.”

That wasn’t the case for Vickers, who also underwent heart surgery as part of his initial treatment.

“The first time I saw my car go around the race track, I wasn't sure if I was ever going to get back in it,” Vickers said. “So I'm sure his emotions are going to be a little different than mine. They would probably be different anyway even if the situations were the exact same.

“It's a better question for Denny, but I've told him that it's not going to be easy and he's not going to like it, but at least you know it's temporary and we'll see you back soon.”

Vickers wasn’t expected to be called upon in a relief role -- JGR officials initially announced that Martin would fill in for Hamlin during his recovery. Less than a day later, both MWR and JGR groups announced that Martin would serve as a substitute for Hamlin at Martinsville, while Vickers would handle the remaining races.

Either way, Vickers said he saw it as a no-lose situation. So much so that he told officials with both teams that once they had determined a solution, he would be happy with the outcome.

“They are two phenomenal organizations -- the opportunity to drive for Aaron's in the 55 at MWR, the opportunity to drive for FedEx in the 11 at JGR -- how could I go wrong?” Vickers said. “I wasn't going to stress about it.”

It will be an opportunity to improve his chances for a full-time Cup ride in 2014, but Vickers, 29, noted that the circumstances really aren’t any different from what goes on within most organizations each week.

“I think your performance on the race track every week has a bearing on what happens the following year,” he said. “I think that's the situation for every driver on the race track. Your performance week to week, year to year, always has a bearing on your future possibilities as an athlete.” 

“Do I think that my performance in the 11 is going to have a bearing? Of course it will.”

Martin, slated to be idle this weekend until getting the call to step into the No. 11 Toyota, said the challenge presented by stepping into another car, with another team, “is something that motivates me to make sure I’m engaged 100 percent. 

"I've seen that car on the race track, followed it on the race track with Denny behind the wheel and tried to figure out and mimic how he was doing what he was doing, especially at Richmond,” Martin said. “And here as well.

“Denny is a master at being able to make the rear tires last and get good speed at the same time, so it's a challenge for me. … It has me up on my toes paying attention and trying to get in sync with a whole group of people … but that's a good thing.”


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