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NASCAR: Coble's Racing Notes

Although Denny Hamlin could miss as many as the next four races, he still could win the championship.

NASCAR’s qualifying procedure for the Chase for the Championship makes it possible for drivers who miss a race to still earn one of two wild card entries into the playoffs.

All Hamlin has to do is be among the top 20 in points and win the most races of those ranked 11th-through-20th. For Hamlin, accomplishing both is entirely possible.

Hamlin will be sidelined while he recovers from a compression fracture of the L1 vertebra suffered in a crash March 24 at Fontana, Calif. Since he won’t be able to start races in the No. 11 Toyota he won’t get any points toward the championship.

But if he only misses four races as projected, based on last year’s wild card qualifiers he only needs to average a 12th-place finish to stay in the top 20 and win a couple races before the Chase starts Sept. 15 at the Chicagoland Speedway.

Before NASCAR created the qualifying rules for the Chase, any driver who missed a race essentially was eliminated from championship contention. That created a lot of pressure on drivers to race with injuries. Hamlin, for example, raced in 2010 just days after having surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Now he can concentrate on making a full recovery without sacrificing his hopes of winning the championship.

Gibbs goes to backup Plan B

Joe Gibbs Racing believed it had a good plan by hiring Mark Martin to replace Denny 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 the 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.”

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
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