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.