Martin to drive for Hamlin

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mark Martin will drive for Joe Gibbs Racing while Denny Hamlin recovers from a fractured vertebra in his lower back.

Martin’s first start in the No. 11 Toyota will be next week at Martinsville Speedway, where he wasn’t scheduled to race. Brian Vickers had already been tabbed to drive Martin’s car for Michael Waltrip Racing at Martinsville.

“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,” said team president J.D. Gibbs. “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.”

The 54-year-old Martin has driven one other time for JGR, in the Nationwide Series last year at Las Vegas, where he finished second.

Hamlin is expected to miss at least five races while he heals. JGR didn’t specify how long Martin will be in the car, but the fifth race is at Talladega, a track Martin has opted to skip the last few years.

Martin has made 858 Cup starts in his 31 seasons in NASCAR’s top series.

“I’m happy to have this opportunity to help out JGR, FedEx and Denny,” Martin said in a statement. “Hopefully, I can keep those guys up front and compete for wins while Denny heals up.”

MWR didn’t announce who will drive Martin’s No. 55 Toyota in his absence, but it will most likely be Vickers, who was slotted to drive nine of Martin’s races this year. The team is believed to be considering Vickers as Martin’s replacement, and this would give MWR a lengthier preview.

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