Mark Martin (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Mark Martin's part-time schedule just got a little more full-time.
Joe Gibbs signed him Thursday to fill in for injured Denny Hamlin over the next six weeks, while Hamlin recovers from Sunday's crash at California Speedway.
Hamlin suffered an L1 compression fracture in his back when he hit the inside wall hard on the last lap of the California 400.
Hamlin hit a part of the wall that wasn't not protected by the SAFER soft-walls, which can reduced G-force impact by as much as 70 percent.
It is unclear why that part of the track was not protected by the soft-walls. NASCAR officials are responsible for telling tracks where to install the SAFER barriers.
Martin's first start for Hamlin will be next weekend at Martinsville Speedway, a track where Hamlin would be one of the heavy favorites. That flat half-mile, however, has never been one of Martin's favorites. Martin, who drives for Michael Waltrip, would normally have yielded to Brian Vickers for that event.
"We've been real fortunate to have never been in this situation, with the need to find someone to fill in for an injured driver, J.D. Gibbs, the team's day-to-day boss, as team president, said.
"A lot goes into a decision like this. But we are really pleased to have someone of the character and caliber of Mark Martin to fill in while Denny is out.
"Obviously we're not exactly sure how long that 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."
In 48 career starts at Martinsville Martin has two wins, 12 top-fives and 25 top-tens.
If Hamlin does sit out the next five races, as his doctors expect, he would miss Martinsville, Texas, Kansas, Richmond and Talladega. That would put Darlington's May 11th 500 his next start.
Denny Hamlin (R), may need six weeks on the sidelines (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)