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.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.