Vickers ready for unique road racing double
June 18, 2013, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
As the only driver pulling double duty across half the country this weekend, Brian Vickers is well aware of the special challenges ahead. Still, he’s more aware of some challenges than others.
There’s the logistics of getting from one place to the other. There’s the transition from his full-time role in the NASCAR Nationwide Series to his part-time detail on the Sprint Cup circuit. The biggest hurdle, however, might be the actual task at hand, adapting from NASCAR’s longest road course -- a circuit he’s never competed on -- to its shortest.
Vickers goes into the great unknown in Saturday’s Johnsonville Sausage 200 (5 p.m. ET, ESPN) for the Nationwide Series at 4.048-mile Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., before he returns to a more familiar track -- 1.99-mile Sonoma Raceway, site of Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET, TNT) for the Sprint Cup tour. The unique Wisconsin-to-California doubleheader will mark the first time he’s competed in NASCAR national series events in different states in the same weekend.
“I'm looking forward to both of them,” Vickers said Tuesday in a weekly NASCAR teleconference. “It's going to take a little different mentality and technique going from Road America which is a little bit faster place to Sonoma which is a slower, more technical road race, but I'm up for the challenge and excited.”
Part of Vickers’ divide-and-conquer strategy includes making just one commute. He’ll start the weekend with his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team, focusing on regaining ground in the Nationwide title hunt. In the meantime, Jason Bowles will sub for him in the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota in Sprint Cup practice and qualifying, meaning Vickers will have to start Sunday’s race from the back of the field.
“Obviously missing qualifying at Sonoma and starting last is not going to help, but there are benefits,” Vickers said. “I think there's opportunities at Sonoma to get to do a little bit different pit strategy. Knowing that you don't really have track position to protect kind of can create opportunities. We've been there in the past where we've had either bad qualifying or something happened during the race and we had to come in and pit or penalties on pit road, like last year we had the penalty on pit road and had to go to the back and we worked our way back up to fourth, but as much as it hurt us, it also created opportunities.”
If Vickers is to pounce on the opportunity to move up in the Nationwide points, it will have to happen on an unfamiliar circuit. Involvement in crashes in the last two races have knocked Vickers from third to 10th in the season-long standings, placing a higher premium on a rebound at Road America.
Vickers says he’s watched race footage from the picturesque Wisconsin track to help him prepare for the long, free-wheeling laps. But he also has some experience to draw on -- this time last year, Vickers was turning laps in a Ferrari at the high-speed, 8.469-mile Circuit de la Sarthe in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“Obviously setting up for a track that long, you have a lot of give and take, right?” Vickers said. “You get a little bit here but you give up a little bit here when you make a change in the setup. The longer the track, the worse that is.
“I would say the hardest thing for myself and I think a lot of guys going into this weekend is that we've never seen it. Most of the guys have not raced there, there's a few that have. I believe maybe Sam Hornish has run there in other cars, Max Papis and a few guys, but most guys have not, including myself, and the hardest part is going to be just learning a new four‑mile race track.”
The opposite will be true at Sonoma, where Vickers has competed seven times. His efforts include a pole position in 2009 and his come-from-behind drive to finish fourth last season.
The Sonoma course has two fewer turns (12 to Road America’s 14), but the twists and turns are compacted into a layout that tips the odometer at less than half the distance. The track’s intricate nature, contrasted with the brute force of ground-pounding stock cars, can make for a sometimes-volatile mix, Vickers says.
“I love racing there, but it's a short track road course,” he said. “I think the pros and cons come along with that. You're almost inevitably going to come out of there mad at someone and someone mad at you, and you just hope it's not too many and they're not too mad. But it's just part of it, which is ‑‑ it's just that's what the fans show up for, right?
“It's that strong and entertaining competition, but it's such a short track, and the field is so tightly packed and so competitive, you're inevitably going to rub fenders with somebody. There's just no way around it.”