So the Denny Hamlin storyline continues.
According to an article on ESPN.com, Mark Martin will be replacing Hamlin just for the Martinsville race.
There was some apparent confusion after Joe Gibbs Racing released a statement saying that Martin is "to drive the No. 11 FedEx Toyota until Hamlin returns." Michael Waltrip, the owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, attempted to clear up the confusion:
We said that we wanted to help, and by helping we would offer up Mark for Martinsville because Brian was racing there [in the 55] ... I guess we just never had the whole deal done when the [JGR] press release went out.
All we were doing was offering help. We agreed that Mark was driving at Martinsville, and we were working through what it looked like after that. Before we got it all figured out, a press release was put out. I guess it said Mark would drive it until Denny was better, and that was just not what we agreed to yet.
One of the tough things for Hamlin and his team over the next six weeks is going to be finding capable replacements. A team that is as good as Hamlin's is going to want to find drivers that can fill in and potentially be successful. The team isn't going to stop putting quality cars on the track while Hamlin is out; it should go without saying that they are going to want to win races with whoever is driving.
Even though they only have Martin for one race, it's a good move. Martin is more than capable of contending for a win at Martinsville.
The one thing that took the biggest hit because of this injury is Hamlin's chances at contending for a championship. Although he will have a long, up-hill battle upon his return, Hamlin is by no means out of contention.
Last season, Hamlin earned 180 points over the span of races that he is expected to miss due to his injury. That 180 points might be too much for him to overcome and allow him to make it into the Top 10. However, he still has a decent chance to make the chase as a wild card.
Wild cards are given to the two drivers ranked highest 11-20 with the most wins.
Last season, the 20th place driver had 640 points after race 26 of the NASCAR season, and the chase begins with race 27.
Currently, Hamlin has 145 points, so he would need to earn approximately 495 points to put himself in the 640 range. Obviously, the 640 points are based off last season. That number could be higher or lower this season. For argument's sake, let's use that 640 figure as a baseline.
In order to earn those approximate 495 points, Hamlin would have to have an average finish of 13th for the remainder of the season. Now, just being in the Top 20 is half the battle. In order to earn a wild card, Hamlin would have to have the most or second-most wins of the drivers ranked 11 through 20.
So essentially, if Hamlin were to return and win a few races while maintaining an average finish of 13th, he could make the chase.
Obviously, this isn't an easy task. However, this also isn't an impossible task. If a driver could miss a handful of races and still make the playoffs, NASCAR would have an issue on their hands. Hamlin has his work cut out for him if he wants to salvage his season.
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