NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 22 Brian Vickers

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Brian Vickers

Season finish: 22nd

2014 Season Stats: 0 Wins, 3 Top-5s, 9 Top-10s, 1 Pole.

What went right: Just being able to return to full-time Sprint Cup competition was huge for Vickers, who ran a full, 36-race Cup schedule for the first time since he lost his ride at Team Red Bull after its 2011 shutdown. Restrictor plate events were particularly fruitful for Vickers; he earned two of his three Top-5 finishes in 2014 (including his season-best of second at Daytona in July) as well as a pole on the mega-tracks.

What went wrong: Following a decent early-season stretch (two Top-5s, 5 Top-10s in the first 12 races), Vickers lost an engine early at Dover and finished 43rd. That appears to be where the year took a turn for the worse, as his results, outside the aforementioned runner-up at Daytona, became largely mediocre.

2015 Prospectus: It was pretty clear that Michael Waltrip Racing struggled with downsizing to a two-car team after its Richmond 2013 race manipulation incident. In addition to Vickers’ woes, teammate Clint Bowyer also faltered noticeably. Unfortunately, Vickers will have to wait for his opportunity at redemption. Heart-related health issues – the latest in a series of medical setbacks that have hampered his career – have forced him out of the car for at least the early part of the 2015 season. We wish him the best and we hope to see him back behind the wheel soon.

Max Verstappen shows speed in Austria; Lewis Hamilton lacking pace

Leonhard Foeger/Pool via Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Red Bull driver Max Verstappen posted the fastest time Friday, and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton lacked pace in the second practice session for the Styrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen was 0.043 seconds quicker than Valtteri Bottas – Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes – and 0.217 ahead of Racing Point driver Sergio Perez.

“The car already feels better than last week, the balance is a lot nicer and we have made a good step,” said Verstappen, who did not finish last Sunday’s season-opening Austrian GP after starting from second.

“It is too early to say how we are looking against Mercedes, but we are quite happy. We have tried a few different directions to understand the car a bit more and we are heading the right way.”

Hamilton was only sixth fastest, about 0.7 seconds slower than Verstappen. Hamilton spent a chunk of time in the garage while his team worked on his car.

“It was quite far off, so there’s a lot of work to do in the background to figure it out,” he said. “Others out there are quick and Valtteri’s obviously got good pace.”

Despite adding a new front wing to its car, struggling Ferrari had a dismal afternoon.

Charles Leclerc was only ninth quickest and 1 second slower than Verstappen, while teammate Sebastian Vettel lagged about 2 seconds behind Verstappen in 16th.

Daniel Ricciardo lost control of his Renault car early into the second session, swerving left off the track and thudding backward into a protective tire wall. He climbed out unharmed, other than a slight limp, but the left rear tire was mangled and the car was lifted off the track by a crane.

Alexander Albon spun twice, the Red Bull driver’s second spin taking him right off the track and into gravel.

Earlier, Perez was fastest in the first practice ahead of Verstappen and Bottas, with Hamilton fourth quickest and Vettel only 10th in sunny conditions.

That session was briefly interrupted when Nicholas Latifi’s Williams car pulled over to the side with a gearbox issue.

The incident brought out yellow flags, forcing drivers to slow down. But McLaren driver Lando Norris overtook Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri and got a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

Norris, 20, finished third at the Austrian GP last weekend, becoming the youngest British driver in F1 history to get on the podium and third youngest in F1.

The upcoming race is changing names from last week but is at the same track. It is surrounded by the Styrian mountains.

A third and final practice will be held on Saturday morning before qualifying in the afternoon, with heavy rain and storms in the forecast.

If third practice and qualifying are washed out, drivers take their grid positions from where they placed in second practice.

“It would definitely suck if we didn’t get to qualify,” said Hamilton, who started fifth and finished fourth last weekend. “It would make it challenging.”

However, qualifying also could be moved to Sunday morning.

“I don’t expect to be on pole position with this (practice) lap,” Verstappen said.