MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) — As one of NASCAR's most respected drivers, Mark Martin has s doled out plenty of advice.
But he's not afraid to seek some, either, even if it comes from a much younger driver.
Such has been the case this week as he prepares to replace the injured Denny Hamlin in Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 11 Toyota on a track where Hamlin's success in 15 races dwarfs what Martin has accomplished in 48.
"He's one of the masters at this race track," Martin said Friday.
Hamlin, who broke a vertebra in a crash in California two weeks ago and will be sidelined for at least five races, has won four times on the oldest, trickiest oval in NASCAR's premier series.
Martin has been to Victory Lane here, too, but just twice in those 48 career starts, and not since 2000.
Hamlin and Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, each with seven victories on the paper-clip-shaped oval, are always viewed as the cars to beat when the series comes to Martinsville.
"I've seen that car on the race track, followed it on the race track with Denny behind the wheel and tried to figure out and mimic how he was doing what he was doing," Martin said. "Denny is a master at being able to make the rear tires last and get good speed at the same time, so it's a challenge for me."
Martinsville is such a challenge that Martin skipped both races here last season, and in 2007 and 2008.
This weekend, Martin started with the car setup Hamlin typically uses, and spent Friday working with the team during practice to tweak it to his liking. He also had a long talk with Hamlin about his approach to the 0.526-mile circuit.
"They are some things that I'm going to be looking for that I haven't as hard in the past that he suggested and we will work together to try to get the best result that we can," the veteran driver said.
After this weekend, Brian Vickers will replace Hamlin in the car. Vickers drives part-time for Michael Waltrip Racing and hopes getting into a perennially contending car allows him to showcase his skills enough to be more than a fill-in.
"It's a huge opportunity for me," said Vickers, who is already racing fulltime in the Nationwide Series for Joe Gibbs and running nine races in the Sprint Cup Series, including this weekend, for MWR.
While appreciative of the opportunity, he's also being careful to keep it in perspective.
"Do I think that my performance in the 11 is going to have a bearing? Of course it will," he said. "Do I think that means that I have to go win to get a ride next year? No. I want to go win, that's our plan. I think that it will have an impact, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it will."
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