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Vickers settles in as Hamlin watches, advises

April 15, 2013, Holly Cain,

The No. 11 finished in eighth place with its second substitute driver

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Injured driver Denny Hamlin couldn’t ask for better caretakers of his No. 11 Toyota Camry.

Brian Vickers contributed a second straight top-10 to the effort Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway, answering a 10th-place run by another of Hamlin’s substitute drivers, Mark Martin, in the car last week at Martinsville (Va.).

In two starts filling in for Hamlin -- who is recovering from a compression fracture in his lower back suffered in a crash at Fontana three weeks ago -- Vickers (eighth place) and Martin (10th place) have scored the first consecutive top-10 showings of the year for the No. 11.

“It feels great,’’ Vickers said Saturday night. “Honestly, I guess I’m pleased, but not satisfied. We ran top-five a lot of the night for the first time with a new team. Like I said, we’re pleased but I wanted to win. That’s what we’re here for.’’

Vickers, who competes full-time in the Nationwide Series for the same Joe Gibbs Racing team, will be behind the wheel for Hamlin again next week at Kansas. And he couldn’t be more optimistic considering the outcome of his debut this week.

"Everyone has really welcomed me into the team."

-- Brian Vickers

“I’m looking forward to it,’’ Vickers said. “I think we learned a lot tonight. Texas is the first time that I’ve driven a Cup car, a Gen-6 car, on a big track. It was a big learning curve for me.

“I think obviously working with a new team, being in the Gen-6 car at a mile-and-a-half for the first time for me was a lot to learn. I think we’ll take away from it tonight and go to Kansas and hopefully go after that win.’’

As was the case last week at Martinsville, Hamlin was trackside at Texas, listening to the radio and ready to assist the team from the sidelines. He still doesn’t have a firm timetable on his return, but is obviously eager to return as soon as doctors give him clearance.

"He goes weekly (for a scan), so every week he gets a report," J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing, said. "Hopefully, we’ll see some of that healing going on this week."

Hamlin said he is hopeful to return to competition April 27 at Richmond -- his hometown track. However, doctors initially told him it may be as long as six weeks before he can get back into the drivers seat, which would be the May 11 race at Darlington.

In the meantime, JGR is giving the 2003 Nationwide Series champ Vickers double duty for four races. Vickers is also driving seven additional Cup races in the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, and between the two part-time opportunities is hoping may land him a full-time Cup ride somewhere next season.

Perhaps no one is as empathetic to the situation as Vickers, who was sidelined much of 2010 with a potentially life-threatening blood clot.

“I know what Denny is going through,’’ Vickers said this weekend. “I’ve been in the position where I’ve been out, I’ve been sick and had someone had to drive for me. My thoughts continue to be with him and I hope to do a good job with him this weekend.’’

“These guys have been great,’’ Vickers said of the No. 11 team. “Everyone has really welcomed me into the team. I think at the end of the day, we still have to learn what I want out of the race car and I’ve got to learn their cars and I have to communicate that to them. Some of that is just me learning what I need in this car and some of it is just understanding what that is.

“We’ll get there.’’


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