Joe Gibbs Racing yet to replace Denny Hamlin
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Joe Gibbs Racing is not ready to name a replacement driver for Denny Hamlin, who will miss a minimum of five races with a fractured vertebra in his lower back.
Hamlin and his No. 11 team will have input on who gets into the car, but team president J.D. Gibbs said the preference is using one driver for most of the races Hamlin is sidelined.
"That consistency would be helpful," Gibbs said in a conference call with reporters.
Although JGR has Elliott Sadler and Brian Vickers running Nationwide Series cars, neither is totally free of commitments to drive Hamlin's Cup car. Vickers is scheduled to drive for Michael Waltrip Racing at Martinsville next weekend, and Sadler has a deal with sponsorship to run a fourth JGR car at Kansas and Talladega.
It raises the possibility that Mark Martin could be in play for the ride in a deal with MWR for Vickers, who already is scheduled to run nine races this season in Martin's car. MWR is already looking at Vickers as a possible future replacement for Martin, and Vickers is scheduled to drive Martin's No. 55 Toyota at Martinsville.
Under one scenario, Martin would move to JGR to drive Hamlin's car, and Vickers would drive for MWR until Hamlin is cleared. The first obstacle is the May 5 race at Talladega, where Martin does not want to run. Although Gibbs would not shed any light on options the team is considering, he would not rule out Martin as a possibility when asked specifically.
"We're kind of talking through everything really right now; there's several guys we are kind of figuring out who is the best fit," Gibbs said. "I wouldn't say no to a bunch of guys."
Meanwhile, the team hopes that Hamlin has a fast recovery.
He was injured in a last-lap crash Sunday with former JGR teammate Joey Logano while the two were racing for the win at California. Hamlin's car hit head-on into an inside wall, and he was hospitalized overnight in California.
An examination in North Carolina on Tuesday by Dr. Jerry Petty determined Hamlin needed at least six weeks of rest to heal. It was devastating news to Hamlin, who was 10th in the Sprint Cup standings and has never missed making the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship since his 2006 rookie season.
"He's handling it well, he's just frustrated," Gibbs said. "The good news we got from Dr. Petty is that it's not a major fracture, it's not ligament damage, which both require surgery. It's just going to be a healing process and really, you don't know how long it's going to take. It's just up to Denny's body. But he's been through this before, he's a tough dude, and he's fighting to get back in the car as fast as he can."
Hamlin raced in 2010 one week after having knee surgery. He completed the race at Phoenix in obvious pain, but refused to use a replacement driver or get out of the car.
The organization has done its own math and determined that Hamlin can still make the Chase this year providing he wins races once he returns to the car.
"I was thinking he was out of it, but the way it's laid out, the points, there's a shot, and I know he wants to be a part of it," Gibbs said.
Gibbs played down any major tension between Logano and Hamlin while they were teammates. Logano signed with Penske Racing late last season, and was eventually banned from team debrief meetings as Hamlin and Penske driver Brad Keselowski raced for the title.
But Gibbs said he didn't believe that Logano's pending departure heightened any friction between the drivers.
"There were a few things that popped up, a Nationwide race here and there, there was some frustration," Gibbs said. "I think if Joey had that breakout streak, that would have all gone away for Denny. There was some tension at times, but I think overall it was nothing major."
Logano's new team owner, Roger Penske, has reached out to the Gibbs organization, but Gibbs said they've not spoken to Logano, the driver they handed a Nationwide Series ride to the moment he turned 18. But Gibbs said the feuding former teammates were simply racing hard on the last lap of a race, and it's unfortunate that Hamlin ended up injured.
"My personal take is that Joey was really trying to make a point, and he was pushing it - `Hey, I am going to win this thing or else,' " Gibbs said. "I think when he realized Denny was hurt, it took a whole new turn. From what I've seen, (Logano) is really hurt by that as well."
Hamlin and Logano have exchanged texts since the accident, but Hamlin told The Associated Press on Wednesday: "It didn't go well. The conversation was both short and unproductive."
Logano on Thursday tweeted: "Wish (at)dennyhamlin a speedy recovery. Hope he gets back to the track soon. And thanks to all of my fans for their support."