Sponsor flap cuts Martin’s JGR role

Rumors of Mark Martin’s substitute role have been greatly exaggerated. It will now last only one race, after a series of conflicting announcements.

Joe Gibbs Racing originally reported on Thursday that Martin would be competing for Denny Hamlin while Hamlin recuperates from a lower-back compression fracture, suffered during a last-lap crash at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday.

The sub-headline that read, “Veteran NASCAR Driver Mark Martin to Drive No. 11 FedEx Toyota Until Hamlin Returns” indicated that the affable 54-year-old veteran would sub throughout Hamlin’s recovery.

But apparently the deal was not cleared by Aaron’s, which is sponsoring Martin in the No. 55 this season and has enjoyed a relationship with Michael Waltrip since 2000.

JGR subsequently said that its Nationwide Series driver, Brian Vickers, will run the balance of the races as Hamlin’s fill-in — after Martin drives for JGR on April 7 at Martinsville. Hamlin is expected to be out six weeks.

“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,” said J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing said in a release around 8 p.m. EST.

"We were a bit premature in determining Mark’s status past Martinsville, however. We’re real happy to have the opportunity to get Brian in our Cup cars, and with him driving Nationwide for us, we think we have some continuity there that is beneficial.”

Approximately two hours earlier on Friday, MWR released a statement saying Martin “will fill in” for Hamlin in the No. 11 Toyota Camry only at Martinsville.

Martin will then return to the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota Camry at Texas Motor Speedway “and resume his previously scheduled run of events with MWR for the remainder of the 2013 Sprint Cup season,” MWR said.

"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,” said MWR founder and co-owner Waltrip in the statement.

"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."

The No. 11 Toyota is 11th in owner points. The No. 55 Toyota is currently 14th in the Sprint Cup owner points, with three drivers — Martin, Vickers and Waltrip — sharing driving duties. Waltrip is running the restrictor-plate tracks. Vickers is driving the No. 55 Toyota at Martinsville this weekend and will drive seven additional races this season. He also drove the car at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 17.

Neither race was sponsored by Aaron’s. Aaron’s also has supported track entitlement for the Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway since 2002.