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.
We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.
And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.
After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.
In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.
Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.
“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.
“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.
“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”
Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.
“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”
Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.