The annual Easter break on the Sprint Cup schedule could not have come at a better time after the first five races of the season.
The new Gen-6 car has produced five different winners to begin the season, with all three manufacturers making at least one trip to victory lane. This is the kind of competition that NASCAR has always wanted, but the storylines this season haven’t always been about what took place on the track.
Regardless of what took place at Daytona this year, everyone will always remember that Danica won the pole for the 500 and was in contention for the win as the last laps went off the board. Lost somewhere in all of the Danica madness were the problems that Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin were having with each other. The two texted after the race complaining about how they had raced each other, but as it turned out that was only the beginning of their problems.
In the weeks following Daytona Hamlin was fined $25,000 by NASCAR for what it felt were some unkind words directed toward the new Gen-6. That grabbed plenty of headlines, but when the series rolled into Bristol, “the” storyline of the year began to surface as his problems with Logan played out both on and off the track.
The two raced each other hard in the closing laps of the Food City 500 before Hamlin gave Logano a bump that sent him into the wall, taking away any chance he had of winning. The two had words after the race and as it turned out the following week at California the two once again got into each other as they were racing for the lead. Hamlin went headfirst into the inside wall, resulting in a fractured vertebra.
Unaware that Hamlin had been seriously hurt in the crash, Logano said after the race that he was going to make sure that Hamlin didn’t win the race. It was hard racing between the two, but NASCAR thought it was just two drivers racing for the win as no fines were given out.
Usually leading up to an open date on the schedule, it is a slow news cycle for the sport but this past week has centered first and foremost on the health of Hamlin. Once it was announced that he would be sidelined for six weeks while his back healed, the news immediately shifted to how Joe Gibbs Racing would fill Hamlin’s vacated seat in the five races that he is scheduled to miss at this time. e
Th goal from the beginning in trying to come up with a plan on whom to put behind the wheel until Hamlin could come back is to use same driver the entire time so the team could have some consistency while the driver heals. The first two names mentioned to take over the ride were Brian Vickers and Elliott Sadler. Both of those drivers are under contract with Gibbs with full-time rides in the Nationwide Series. Sadler is also expected to run a couple of Cup races for Gibbs in a fourth car later in the season, and Vickers has a part-time Cup ride with MWR this season.
The third name mentioned was that of Mark Martin, who is running a part-time Cup schedule for MWR. He shares the ride with Vickers and Martin but wasn’t scheduled to run this coming weekend at Martinsville so he became the leading candidate as both MWR and JGR are Toyota teams. On Thursday, JGR announced that Martin would take over for the injured Hamlin until he could return, but that proved to be premature. As it turned out because of problems with Martin’s sponsors at MWR, he would only be able to fill in for Hamlin this weekend.
Vickers will fill in the remaining races until Hamlin returns, giving JGR the stability it wanted while its driver is on the mend.
Hamlin will not receive any of the points that the two drivers accumulate in his absence, but they still will go toward the owner’s championship. That should be enough motivation to keep the team performing at a high level until it gets its driver back.
Event: STP Gas Booster 500
Track: Martinsville Speedway (.526 mile oval, 120 of banking in the turns)
Date: April 7, 1 p.m.
Defending Champion: Ryan Newman