Trying to replace Denny Hamlin, one of the fastest and most competitive drivers on the Sprint Cup circuit, is no easy task. Yet because of Hamlin's injury at Auto Club Speedway two weekends ago, that's exactly what Mark Martin and Brian Vickers will have to do for the next few weeks at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Martin will take the wheel of Hamlin's No. 11 FedEx Toyota at Martinsville Speedway this weekend, while Vickers will fill the seat for the balance of Hamlin's absence—likely the next four races, which come at Texas, Kansas, Richmond and Talladega.
The idea is to keep the No. 11 car in the hunt for the owners' points championship, something that Martin and Vickers know well as drivers who share the No. 55 Toyota at Michael Waltrip Racing. Initially, the hope had been for Martin to run all of the races while Hamlin was gone, with Vickers taking over Martin's races at MWR, but that deal was apparently vetoed by sponsor Aaron's.
Either way, the goal for Gibbs and the No. 11 team in the meantime is to score decent finishes that keep their momentum strong for when Hamlin returns. But judging by past performance—and by the fact that Hamlin excels at some of the tracks he'll miss—Martin, Vickers and Gibbs may be fighting an uphill battle.