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Vickers excited to 'defend' title he won 10 years ago

November 09, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com



Vickers excited to 'defend' title he won 10 years ago

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Brian Vickers can't wait to "defend" the championship he won going on 10 years ago.

Yes, nearly a full decade after Vickers won what was then the Busch Series and is now the Nationwide Series championship, the driver said he is excited about making a full-time return to NASCAR's junior series next season. He'll do it in 2013 behind the wheel of a Toyota fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing.

"My career obviously has been anything but normal, for so many different reasons. ... In general, for me, I just want to be in fast cars. I don't really care what series it's in."

--BRIAN VICKERS

Though the announcement was made earlier -- along with an even earlier announcement that Vickers also will drive the No. 55 Toyota in nine Sprint Cup races for Michael Waltrip Racing next season -- Vickers expounded on his dual decision Friday in the media center at Phoenix International Raceway.

"This opportunity came up as a surprise. I was trying to figure out what was next and where I was going to head," Vickers said. "Wherever I ended up, I just wanted to be in a car and with an organization where I could be happy and come to the race track and have a chance to win every week. That's what led to me signing with MWR for those nine [Cup] races. I obviously feel like I've found a home in the Toyota camp over the last six years. They're only going to keep getting better and better. I see a bright future ahead there.

"So then when J.D. [Gibbs] called with this opportunity to drive for JGR and run for the Nationwide championship, it kind of caught me by surprise a little bit. But the more I thought about it, I was very excited about it. No one can argue that JGR has one of the best Nationwide programs on the circuit. The chance to race for another championship, I thought, would be a lot of fun. ... So all the stars kind of aligned, all the criteria kind of fit."

The stars in NASCAR haven't aligned for Vickers the way he would have liked -- or at least envisioned -- in recent years. After winning his title in what was then the Busch Series in 2003, he moved up to the Cup Series in '04 -- driving the next three years for Hendrick Motorsports before moving onto Red Bull Racing and Toyota.

But despite winning two races and making the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup during his five-year run at Red Bull, it was a mixed experience. He failed to qualify for 13 races in 2007, and in '10 missed 25 races because of blood clots. Then, following the 2011 season, Red Bull shuttered its operation.

That left Vickers scrambling to feed his racing fix in 2012. He picked up eight Cup races for MWR and is running this Saturday's Nationwide race at PIR in the No. 20 Toyota fielded by JGR. But in between, he traveled far and wide to feed his need for speed -- even racing endurance races in Europe for a stretch.

"This year was great," he insisted. "It was very different for me -- running some NASCAR and some sports-car stuff. I spent some time in Europe, racing there, and that was fun."

Of racing overseas, he added: "There are some differences that are stark. But most of it is just racing. The languages are different. The food is different. Driving for an Italian team, you have amazing food every week. ... The mechanics, and the team and the operations and the way the garage is laid out is all different. But it's still racing."

And that's all Vickers wants to do. So he did not look at his pending full-time return to the series where he hasn't driven a complete season since winning the championship in 2003 as odd.

"My career obviously has been anything but normal, for so many different reasons. ... I just want to win. I want to have fun and be with people and companies that I enjoy being around. I think that's when I'm at my best," Vickers said.

"I didn't really think about it as being, wow, it's been 10 years, or Nationwide vs. Cup, or anything like that. It's like this year, when I was getting in a Ferrari for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I didn't think about anything but, wow, I want to be in this car because it's fast and it's fun. In general, for me, I just want to be in fast cars. I don't really care what series it's in."

One driver who can relate is Elliott Sadler, who is battling for the current Nationwide Series championship and is expected to become Vickers' Nationwide teammate at JGR next season. Sadler returned to the Nationwide Series full time in 2011 after 11 seasons of driving full time in Cup and only occasionally in the lower-tier series, but he said it has rejuvenated his career because he's back in fast cars that he has been able to take to Victory Lane again.

"I'm sure he's going to have fun with it. I have," Sadler said. "I think with this deal with Gibbs, he's going to be very competitive and have a chance to win the championship next year. So I think he'll have fun doing that.

"One thing I think Brian and I have in common is that, as racers, we love to race. You want to be able to race week in and week out, and you want to be able to compete and be competitive and have a chance to win races. So if that happens, no matter what level you're at, you're pretty satisfied as a person and as a race-car driver. So I think that's what he's thinking as he prepares to come back and be a part of the Nationwide Series."

Vickers smiled at the thought of it.

"I'm going back for the 10-year anniversary, and I can't wait," he said.