Mark Martin-JGR deal falls through
30 March 2013
Joe Gibbs Racing has been forced to reverse its previously announced plan to put veteran Cup racer Mark Martin in their #11 Cup car as a replacement for the injured Denny Hamlin.
The JGR team had originally announced the deal late on Thursday, but on Friday evening was forced to issue a new press release admitting that the previous statement had been "premature", and that Martin would actually only fill in for Hamlin at the next scheduled event at Martinsville Speedway on April 7.
"We were a bit premature in determining Mark's status past Martinsville," said JGR president JD Gibbs of the apparent collapse of the deal to borrow Martin from Michael Waltrip Racing.
"For some reason, before we got it all figured out, a press release was put out," team owner-driver Michael Waltrip said later.
Instead JGR will now turn to their current Nationwide Series regular driver Brian Vickers to take over the #11 post-Martinsville, the team revealed.
"We're real happy to have the opportunity to get Brian in our Cup cars and with him driving Nationwide for us we think we have some continuity there that is beneficial," said Gibbs. "The good thing for us is that we have drivers the calibre of Mark and Brian to help fill in until Denny comes back."
The situation regarding Martin's status in the #11 had been thrown into confusion a few hours earlier, when MWR - Martin's regular Cup team - issued a statement bluntly contradicting Thursday's JGR announcement about a longer-term secondment of the 31-season veteran.
"Michael Waltrip Racing announced today that Mark Martin will fill in for injured Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin in the #11 Toyota Camry next weekend at Martinsville Speedway," the MWR press release read, before going on to state unequivocally: "Martin will return to the #55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota Camry at Texas Motor Speedway on April 13 and resume his previously scheduled run of events with MWR for the remainder of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint cup season."
It's not clear why JGR's hoped-for longer-term deal for Martin's services didn't work out. It's possible that the sponsors for the #55 car, US retailer Aaron's, did not wish to sign off on a change of driver; or it could be that either JGR or MWR were unhappy about sharing set-up secrets with a driver working for a potential major rival team in the Championship Chase play-offs.
"Mark is a big part of our organization and is committed to our sponsors, especially Aaron's and Toyota," said team owner Michael Waltrip. "We have a lot of goals yet to reach this year and we are very focused on accomplishing them."
On Friday, both squads were attempting to put a brave face on the embarrassing situation and doing their best to insist that there were no strained relationships between the two Toyota-powered camps.
"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," said Waltip, wishing Hamlin a speedy recovery
"Obviously having to find someone to fill in for Denny is not an ideal situation to have to be in," admitted JD Gibbs. "When you start a process like this, you obviously begin to look at the drivers that are not only available but also able to drive for your race team and manufacturer."
Hamlin is expected to be out for six weeks or five Cup races, as this weekend sees NASCAR take a break for Easter. With Martin taking the car for next week's even at Martinsville, Vickers can now expect to compete at Texas, Kansas, Richmond and Talladega over the following weeks with Hamlin aiming to return to racing at Darlington on May 11.
Vickers will also be competing in the Cup race at Martinsville, as he was already contracted to take over the #55 for that event, one of ten that Mark Martin is not running in his partial 2013 season.
Vickers raced full-time in the NACAR Sprint Cup championship with Red Bull Racing from 2007 until their exit from the sport at the end of 2011, although he missed most of the 2010 season after being diagnosed with a medical condition involving blood clots. Unable to find a new full-time Cup seat with a top team, Vickers opted for a part-time slot in the #55 shared with Martin and Waltrip, while returning to the Nationwide Series in which he was champion in 2003.
The 29-year-old from North Carolina has had one Cup start so far in 2013 which saw him finish in the top ten at Bristol. In the Nationwide Series, he's had one pole position and and finished in third place twice in the five races of the season to date.