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.
ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).
“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.
“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”
For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.
“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.
“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”
Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.
“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.