MARTINSVILLE, Va.—In picking Brian Vickers to substitute for Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing got a driver who can empathize with what Hamlin is feeling while he waits to return to his car.
Vickers will start a stint of indeterminate length in the No. 11 Toyota next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, as Hamlin continues to recover from a compression fracture of the first lumbar vertebra suffered during a last-lap crash Mar. 24 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
Make no mistake. Driving the No. 11 Camry is an important opportunity for Vickers, who is running a nine-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing, including Sunday’s STP Gas Booster 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
But Vickers has mixed feelings about the circumstances that will put him behind the wheel of Hamlin’s car. Much of Vickers’ ambivalence stems from a medical condition that forced him out of his ride at Red Bull Racing in 2011. Suffering from blood clots in his legs and lungs, Vickers missed the last six months of the season while he recuperated.
“Next week I’m going to be in the 11 car, which I’m obviously excited about, but sad how the opportunity came about,” Vickers said Friday morning at Martinsville. “I know what it’s like to be pulled out of your car for health reasons — I’ve been in that boat before and wish Denny a speedy recovery.
“I’ll do the best job I can for him and (sponsor) FedEx and everyone at Gibbs and Toyota until he returns … Again, I reiterate it’s very sad how it happened because I’ve been on the receiving end of this. I’m happy to jump in and do the best I can.”
Hamlin is expected to miss five races, but that number is inexact, pending the speed of his recovery and a green light from his doctors.