Vickers’ dream of full-time Cup ride comes true again with Aaron’s, Waltrip

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Sorry in advance for this lede. But for Brian Vickers, “dreams do come true” and he is a “lucky dog” to have a second full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series opportunity with Michael Waltrip Racing from 2014.

Thanks, Aaron’s, Vickers’ sponsor for all 36 races through 2015, for getting your two major marketing messages completely embedded inside my head and making me write that.

Anyway, what had been rumored for a couple months and then all but confirmed when the team announced Monday that “It would have a major media announcement, with Brian Vickers” on Tuesday, that all but sealed the deal.

The particulars: Vickers will take over as full-season driver of the No. 55 Aaron’s Toyota for MWR after being part of a ride-share with Mark Martin and Michael Waltrip the last two years. The deal is for “a few years, hopefully 10 to 15” years, according to Waltrip. And for Vickers, it’s a chance at a Sprint Cup rebirth after a rocky first stint from 2004 through 2011.

It’s easy to forget Vickers isn’t even 30 yet – he turns 30 on October 24 later this year. Although he took home the Nationwide (then Busch Series) title in 2003, Vickers was still far from the finished article when Rick Hendrick promoted him to the No. 25 car in 2004. He scored four top-10 finishes and ended 25th in points.

His first win with Hendrick was shrouded in controversy, after a bump draft gone awry at Talladega in fall 2006 took out teammate Jimmie Johnson and NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

A year later he switched to Red Bull and the going got tougher for Vickers as it was a new team with a manufacturer, Toyota, in its first year. Vickers failed to qualify for 13 of 36 races and had only five top-10 finishes.

But methodically the unit moved forward, so much so Vickers won at Michigan for the team in 2009, scored an impressive six poles and made the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The upward trajectory was halted in 2010 when Vickers was sidelined with an undisclosed medical condition, later revealed to be blood clots in his legs and around his lungs.

A nightmarish 2011, back with Red Bull in its waning stages of NASCAR interest, saw Vickers regress and hit seemingly everything but the lottery – the Martinsville races stand out in particular.

Still, Waltrip believed in Vickers after the tough slog and Vickers repaid him as a fill-in driver for the races Waltrip and Mark Martin weren’t running. Vickers scored three top-fives and five top-10s in eight 2012 starts, and he made it to the top of the hill with a surprise – but popular win – at New Hampshire earlier this year.

Vickers races full-time in the Nationwide Series with Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10-3 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 7 p.m. to USA Network. Peacock will have flag-to-flag coverage.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III