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Mark Martin to drive No. 11 JGR Toyota while Denny Hamlin heals

Joe Gibbs Racing has chosen veteran Mark Martin to sub for Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 Toyota Camry while Hamlin recovers from a compression fracture of the first lumbar vertebra, the team announced Thursday afternoon.

Hamlin's injury, sustained Sunday in a last-lap crash at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., is expected to take approximately six weeks to heal. If that prognosis proves true, Hamlin would miss the next five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races.

Martin, 54, has 40 victories in the Cup series and has finished second in the final standings five times.

"I'm happy to have this opportunity to help out JGR, FedEx (Hamlin's primary sponsor) and Denny," Martin said in a team release. "Hopefully I can keep those guys up front and compete for wins while Denny heals up."

Martin is scheduled to compete in 24 Sprint Cup points events for Michael Waltrip Racing in the No. 55 Toyota. His first race for JGR is Apr. 7 at Martinsville, where Brian Vickers has been tabbed to drive the 55.

Owner Michael Waltrip will drive the 55 at Talladega on May 5. Accordingly, MWR likely will have to find a substitute for Martin at Texas (Apr. 13), Kansas (Apr. 21) and Richmond (Apr. 28), opening up the possibility that Vickers could add to the nine races he's already scheduled to run for MWR.

If the six-week timetable proves accurate, Hamlin could return to action May 11 at Darlington.

In 48 starts at Martinsville, Martin has two wins, two poles and a career-average finish of 13.3. When Martin takes the green-flag at Martinsville, Hamlin's streak of 264 consecutive starts from the beginning of his career will end.

"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 J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing. "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."

The No. 11 Camry is 11th in the Cup owners' standings through five races and could still win the owners' championship even if Hamlin fails to make the Chase. The No. 55 MWR Toyota is 14th in owner points.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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