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Sprint Cup 2013 Preview: Martinsville

Martinsville Speedway
Martinsville Speedway (Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Denny Hamlin had a rough off week during the Easter holidays.

After battling for the win with newfound rival Joey Logano during the last lap at Auto Club Speedway, contact sent the #11 car crashing into the inside wall. Hamlin was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with a compression fracture in his back.

Any hopes we had of seeing a rivalry renewed at Martinsville crashed along with the diagnosis.

In Hamlin’s defense, it has nothing to do with pain tolerance. If Hamlin was to suffer another hard hit while trying to gut it out, he could risk being paralyzed.

“Since I already have my spine broken up into two pieces,” Hamlin said during a candid interview with ESPN’s Marty Smith, “if you get in another wreck, those pieces will then shatter & get into your spinal cord. That’s something I don’t want to risk.”

I wouldn’t want to risk that either.

Hamlin has never had to have a substitute driver during his career. But if he had to have one, Mark Martin is a pretty good guy to have come off the bench. Hamlin has spoken with Martin this week about how he attacks the half-mile track, and Martin, a veteran to say the least, has said he’s learned a thing or two.

“He was very forthcoming with how he approaches practice & how he approaches the race as far as lines he drives,” Martin said. “That information is there & it’s a two-way street.”

After this week, Brian Vickers will take over the #11 car until Hamlin fully recovers. Without a full-time ride for 2014, Vickers time in the #11 car could be an evaluation period for other Cup owners.

But Hamlin is definitely not okay with everything.

“It’s personal,” Hamlin said, “because I’m the one who has to go through rehab three times a week. I’m the one that has to deal with the repercussion from this wreck. He’s going to move on, as if nothing happened.”

Well, we won’t forget. But we have to move on to Martinsville.

What to look for this weekend:

Jimmie Johnson: For years, J.J. struggled at Bristol, the other half-mile on the Sprint Cup schedule. He’s never had an issue being fast at Martinsville. He’s got a 7.92 average finish for his career, and a win under his belt already this season. He’s definitely the favorite headed into the weekend.

Brad Keselowski: I feel like every week I put B.K. and J.J. on the highlight list, so why stop now? Brad has a pretty crazy streak going at flat tracks: heading into this weekend, he’s finished in the top 10 at flat tracks like Martinsville, Richmond, Phoenix & New Hampshire 9 straight times

Kevin Harvick: He’s been up and down early this season, but Martinsville is a place for the closer to regain form. For his career, he ranks sixth on the average finish chart at the track, with a 12.24.

Prediction: Dale Earnhardt Jr. has snuck his way into the points lead heading into this race, and I think he’ll extend that lead this weekend with a win. Did you know that Jr. has led more laps at Martinsville than any other track in his career?

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