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Denny Hamlin eager to get back on track

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If it was up to him, Denny Hamlin’s fractured vertebra in his lower back would not cause him to miss any races.

“I can get in my car right now and go; I feel like I can get in my car right now and win Martinsville,” Hamlin said Wednesday.

But he can’t race this weekend at Martinsville. He’ll be watching from pit road as Mark Martin drives his car, and that might be the most painful part of the injury that has sidelined Hamlin for the first time in his career.

“I think I’m over the physical part of this, now I just have to get over the mental part of it,” he said. “I’m going to feel fine the next four to five weeks. You have to look at the bigger picture. It’s tough for me to swallow that now. I have to make sure I’m able to sustain another hit.”

Hamlin was injured in a crash on the last lap of the March 24 race at California while racing with Joey Logano for the win. Doctors have told him he should expect to miss at least five races, but Hamlin is personally targeting the April 27 race at home track Richmond for his return.

Nobody has told him he can race at Richmond, where he plays host to his annual charity race, but nobody has told him it’s impossible.

Same thing for his title chances his season.

Hamlin could miss five races and technically still find a way to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

BACKUP PLAN B: Joe Gibbs Racing believed it had a good plan by hiring Martin to replace Hamlin while he recovers from a broken vertebra. The only problem was Martin already had a job with Michael Waltrip Racing.

Shortly after JGR announced Martin would jump in the No. 11 Toyota for at least four races, Waltrip said Martin was expected to be in his familiar No. 55 Toyota for next week’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Martin will drive in relief of Hamlin during Sunday’s STP Gas Booster 500 at the Martinsville Speedway. After that, Brian Vickers will move into Hamlin’s car.

Martin has a selected schedule, so he was available for Sunday’s race. But Gibbs apparently took the offer too far.

“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,” Waltrip said. “We wish Denny a speedy recovery. Mark is a big part of our organization and is committed to our sponsors, especially Aaron’s and Toyota. We have a lot of goals yet to reach this year and we are very focused on accomplishing them.”

Gibbs team president J.D. Gibbs admitted his team reacted too quickly.

“Obviously having to find someone to fill in for Denny is not an ideal situation to have to be in and 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,” he told Sporting News. “We were a bit premature in determining Mark’s status past Martinsville however.”

PACE CAR CONTEST: There’s a new contest where people can enter to win the 2013 Official Pace Car at Michigan International Speedway.

Organizers on Tuesday announced details of the MI Pace Car Sweepstakes, which culminates with the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR race at the Brooklyn track.

The speedway, Ford Motor Co., the state’s “Pure Michigan” tourism campaign and Quicken Loans are teaming up on the effort.

This year’s pace car will be a plug-in hybrid called the Ford Fusion Energi. It’s expected to be on the track for the Quicken Loans 400 on June 16 and the Pure Michigan 400 on Aug. 18.

Online entries must be submitted by July 31 at 11:59 p.m. EDT to be eligible to win the car. Fans may also enter at the track.


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