Martin deal to replace injured Hamlin falls apart

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Mark Martin will not be the main replacement driver for the injured Denny Hamlin after all.

On Thursday, Joe Gibbs Racing announced that Martin, who currently drives for Michael Waltrip Racing, would step into Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota while Hamlin recovered from a fractured vertebrae. But just one day later comes word that the deal has fallen apart, and Martin will continue his duties with MWR.

Martin will replace Hamlin in the No. 11 only on Apr. 7 at Martinsville Speedway — a track he wasn’t slated to drive at for MWR. Brian Vickers, one of JGR’s drivers in the Nationwide Series, will drive MWR’s No. 55 machine at the half-mile oval in Virginia.

“I think it is great that a driver of Mark’s caliber is available to support our fellow Toyota team during this difficult time for them,” Waltrip said in a statement. “We wish Denny a speedy recovery. Mark is a big part of our organization and is committed to our sponsors, especially Aaron’s and Toyota.

“We have a lot of goals yet to reach this year and we are very focused on accomplishing them.”

According to the Associated Press’ Jenna Fryer, it is believed that a deal had been completed between the two Toyota squads to swap Martin for Vickers in the Cup races, but that JGR announced it before Aaron’s, the main backer of the No. 55, had given approval.

Fryer reports that no reason has yet been given for Aaron’s disapproval.

Hamlin is expected to miss at least five races while he heals up. Meanwhile, JGR now has to find another replacement in his No. 11 post-Martinsville.

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

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