Gibbs racing turns to Mark Martin to fill Hamlin’s spot

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Mark Martin will step in to replace the injured Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

The 54-year-old Martin, who has been driving part-time for Michael Waltrip Racing, was announced today as Hamlin’s substitute by JGR.
Hamlin will be out for at least six weeks as he recovers from a compression fracture in his L1 vertebrae, which he suffered in a last-lap wreck on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway.

“Obviously, we’re not exactly sure how long [Hamlin’s recovery] 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,” said JGR president J.D. Gibbs in a conference call on Thursday.

As for the injured Hamlin, he said in a statement that while he hated not being in his car, he was glad that Martin was available to help.

“Like everyone in NASCAR, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mark and I know he will keep that FedEx Camry up front until I get back behind the wheel,” he said.

According to Jeff Gluck of USA Today, Martin was already committed to drive MWR’s No. 55 Toyota in some of the races during Hamlin’s expected recovery period. Martinsville was not on that list, as Brian Vickers had been slated to race the No. 55 at the next race on April 7 at Martinsville Speedway.

MWR has not officially announced who will drive in Martin’s absence, but the team is believed to be evaluating Vickers as a potential replacement for Martin in 2014. If that’s true, then it’d make sense for MWR to give Vickers more seat time in the No. 55.

INDYCAR: Newgarden, Sato quickest in first of 2 Friday practices at Road America

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Josef Newgarden was quickest in the first of Friday’s two INDYCAR practice sessions at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion covered the 4.048-mile, 14-turn course with a best lap of 1:43.0477, followed by Takuma Sato (1:43.4729), Alexander Rossi (1:43.5603), Robert Wickens (1:43.5774) and Marco Andretti (1:43.8825).

Sixth-quickest was Tony Kanaan (1:44.0429), followed by Spencer Pigot (1:44.1080), Zach Veach (1:44.1306), Scott Dixon (1:44.1643) and Matheius Leist (1:44.2963).

Alfonso Celis Jr., making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut and with Juncos Racing, was 22nd quickest in the 23-car field at 1:44.9164, while Gabby Chaves was the slowest driver on the course at 1:46.4485.

While there were no significant incidents during the 45-minute session, a number of drivers struggled in several turns, primarily due to some lingering puddles from overnight rain, as well as on rumble strips that threw their cars into adjacent grass areas.

The second practice session today takes place at 4:15 p.m. ET.

A third practice kicks off Saturday’s busy day at Noon ET, followed by qualifying at 4 p.m. ET, the second round of qualifying at 4:40 p.m. ET and the third and final round of qualifying at 5 p.m. ET.

The weekend’s main event, Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix, takes the green flag shortly after 1 p.m. ET. Make sure to tune in to NBCSN for the live telecast of the race.

We’ll have the full practice grid and driver quotes shortly. Please check back soon.

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