Vickers finds there is no place like NASCAR home
Brian Vickers enjoyed becoming a world traveler as a race-car driver last season.
He makes no secret that there is no place like home as he returns to a NASCAR-only schedule this year.
He wasn’t totally away in 2012, competing eight times as one of the drivers in Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 after being left in limbo when Team Red Bull folded. To fill in his racing card, Vickers went overseas to be one of the drivers on a sports car team owned by Waltrip and Rob Kauffman, who is Waltrip’s partner in MWR.
The assignment took him to world famous tracks, among them Spa in Belgium and the scene of a little 24-hour race, LeMans.
LeMans? In many ways, the track in rural France is a long way from the days Vickers and his crew worked on his ProCup car in the small shop located near his father’s racing parts business just off Lake Road in Thomasville.
“To grow up in Thomasville and to race in the Sprint Cup is a wow factor in itself,” Vickers said during the recent NASCAR Media Tour. “I didn’t expect this. and then to get a year travelling the world, to race at LeMans was a special moment in my life. I thoroughly enjoyed. I tried to soak it up and appreciate it and I did.”
He described LeMans, one of the five most famous races in the world as a “spectacle” but added that he enjoyed a tougher driving challenge at other tracks.
“The 24 Hours of LeMans, very few races can top that, but as for the track itself, there are some sections that are fun but most of it is long straightways,” Vickers said. “I’d love to do it in a prototype. I’d love to go back in a GT car, any way I could do it would be fine. And there are tracks I didn’t get to race on that I would love to race.”
But, not in the near future. His goal is to eventually win a Sprint Cup championship. But first, he must be a Sprint Cup regular again after nearly being out of the series and taking an eight-race deal last season as teammate to Mark Martin and Waltrip instead of opting to be a full-time driver for a team with little chance of winning.
He’ll do the same for MWR this season after nearly winning in his first start last year at Bristol and posting three finishes in the top five and five in the top 10. He will also compete for the Nationwide championship for Joe Gibbs Racing, 10 years after winning that title for Hendrick Motorsports.
“I’m pleased but not satisfied,” Vickers said. “I would have liked to have won of those races where we came so close but obviously, I was pleased with results considering it was part-time from a professional perspective. But personally, it was a great year. I got to race all over the world. I got to run some races that most of my peers dream about running. And they never get that chance because they spend their entire careers here.
But I came back because clearly this is the place to be.”
Vickers believed that he had stepped into a good situation when he signed with MWR and got the chance to work and learn about driving and team motivation from Martin, the old wily 50-something veteran. He got the chance to work with crew chief Rodney Childers and got the chance to remain with Toyota, with whom Vickers had worked since he went to the Red Bull team in 2007. Vickers’ vibes about the team were proved right when he led 125 laps and finished fifth right out of the box at Bristol.
“The moment we signed the deal I was excited,” Vickers said. “Leaving Bristol, I was ecstatic, having contended for the wain and led so many laps. It was over the top.”
The success of last season leaves him optimistic about 2013.
“Sharing a ride with Mark Martin, I couldn’t be happier,” Vickers said. “It is a positive attitude.”
As for the prospects of having a chance to race more in the Sprint Cup Series in 2014, Vickers said it is too early to say. But, it does appear there will be an opportunity at MWR because Martin has said he won’t return as the No. 55’s primary driver after this season.
“I don’t know what’s next and even I did, it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.” Vickers said. “I found that our the hard way. My focus is n 2013. I will tell you that. I’m proud to be part of the Toyota family. They played a integral role in keeping me here and making this work for 2013. I see no reason to change it for 2014. How it looks exactly, we don’t know yet.”