MARTINSVILLE, VA. – Brian Vickers has had a very peculiar racing career. Well, it certainly hasn’t been routine.
He has experienced things few other drivers have. He has been at the top of his game. He’s been unemployed. He’s had his team pulled right out from under him. And he’s experienced a physical malady that could have easily put an end to his driving days.
But Vickers presses on.
This year he will see plenty of action on the track. He has a full-time Nationwide Series ride with Joe Gibbs Racing.
He’s slated to drive in nine Sprint Cup races for Michael Waltrip Racing, swapping the seat with Waltrip and Mark Martin.
And there’s more. Vickers will substitute for the injured Denny Hamlin at JGR for four races, starting next week at Texas. Martin is in the No. 11 at Martinsville.
Vickers is all over the place.
Yes, he’s at Martinsville. He’ll compete in the No. 55 Toyota for Martin, who, as said, will race with JGR.
Are you keeping up?
“We had a good run here last year,” Vickers said. “Working with these guys has always been a pleasure and I’ve always liked Martinsville. This is the first place that I ran in a stock car -Allison Legacy car to be exact. It’s a fun track.
“Next week I’m going to be in the 11 car, which I’m obviously excited about, but I’m sad how the opportunity came about.
“I know what it’s like to be pulled out of your car for health reasons – I’ve been in that boat before – and wish Denny a speedy recovery. I will do the best job I can for him and everyone at Gibbs and Toyota until he returns.”
Vickers’ racing career took off in 2003 when he was hired to replace Ricky Hendrick in a Chevrolet owned by Hendrick Motorsports.
Vickers won three races and the championship by 14 points over David Green; thus becoming the youngest champion in the history of the Nationwide Series at age 20.
Vickers made his Cup debut in the 2003 UAW-GM Quality 500 at Charlotte, qualifying 20th and finishing 33rd in the #60 Haas Automation Chevy. He ran four more races that season in Hendrick’s Chevy, qualifying in the top five each time, but posting only one top 20 finish.
Vickers moved on to Red Bull Racing in 2007 and did well, winning numerous pole positions.
And in 2009, Vickers won at Michigan to give Toyota its first win there. Afterward, he signed a contract extension with Red Bull.
But things began to change for the worse.
On May 13, 2010, it was announced that Vickers, who had earned three top 10s in the first 11 races, would not be participating in the Autism Speaks 400 at Dover International Speedway due to an undisclosed medical condition, later revealed to be blood clots in his legs and around his lungs.
Casey Mears was announced as his replacement. This ended a streak of 87 consecutive starts, which dated back to Atlanta in 2007.
On May 21, 2010, six days after being released from a hospital for the aforementioned blood clot issue, it was announced that Vickers would miss the remainder of the season.
It was obvious doctors did not want Vickers to do any strenuous activity. Blood clots can move through the body and ultimately cause a stroke – or worse.
“For me, not being in my car was very tough,” Vickers said. “The first time I saw my car go around the track, I wasn’t sure if I would ever again be in it.
“You grow up watching lots of races that you’re not in. But to watch the ones you are supposed to be in with your car going around the race track – well it’s not an easy thing to do.”
Vickers was cleared to race in 2011, but didn’t have a particularly good season. He finished 25th in the point standings.
At the end of the year Red Bull announced it was pulling the plug on its NASCAR program, which left Vickers on the outside looking in – again.
Vickers started the 2012 season without a ride, but it was announced in early March that he would drive the No. 55 Toyota for MWR at both races at Bristol, Martinsville, and Loudon, sharing the ride with Martin and Waltrip.
In his first race in the No. 55, at Bristol, Vickers dominated the first half of the race, leading for 125 laps. He would eventually finish 5th.
MWR later announced that Vickers would drive at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, expanding his schedule to eight races for 2012.
Of course, now that he’s been tapped by JGR for a full tilt on the Nationwide Series, has four races slated in Gibb’s Cup Toyota and remains on a nine-race schedule with MWR, Vickers is busier than ever.
He’s come a long way since Red Bull’s departure in 2011.
“This is all a huge opportunity for me,” said the 29-year-old Vickers, from Thomasville, N.C. “I feel like I’m very fortunate to have both these opportunities. I’m with two great teams and two great cars. Needless to say, things like that don’t happen very often.
“Again, I reiterate it’s very sad how all of this has happened. Again, I know how Denny is feeling because I’ve been on the receiving end of this.
“I’m just happy to jump in and do the best I can.”