The process continues. With Denny Hamlin on the mend but still on the sidelines, Joe Gibbs Racing heads for Texas Motor Speedway intending to keep its No. 11 Toyota near the top of the NASCAR Sprint Cup owner point standings.
Stand-in Mark Martin did his job. A 10th-place finish at Martinsville Speedway – while Hamlin sat atop the pit box and coached his substitute – leaves the No. 11 car ninth in owner points. Brian Vickers takes the wheel Saturday night with Hamlin’s return to competition still several weeks away.
Vickers, who drives JGR’s No. 20 Toyota in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, will do double-duty at Texas and beyond. Based on teammate Kyle Busch’s success parlaying the same system into a NASCAR Sprint Cup victory and three Nationwide wins, Vickers could be a contender on Saturday night.
His record at the 1.5-mile track suggests he can use the track time.
In 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup trips to the Lone Star state, Vickers has yet to reach the top 10. His best finish, 12th, came in his first start with Hendrick Motorsports in 2004. Vickers’ average finish is 23.9 with a Driver Rating of 63.2. Vickers does hold the track’s qualifying record of 196.235 mph set in 2006.
The irony is that a healthy Hamlin would be a solid favorite to win this week. He swept both races in 2010 when the Virginian challenged for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. JGR’s third Texas win came with Tony Stewart in 2006.