Vickers, MWR prove to be resilient in 2014
April 17, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
He says he pays no attention to what the media churns out each week, which might make it sound as if he could be a difficult interview. But that's not the case.
"If it's bad and you believe it, that's bad," Brian Vickers said on the heels of a 26th-place finish in Saturday night's Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. "And if it's good and you believe it, that's probably bad, too."
The fact that he is a part of the NASCAR equation today carries more weight than what is written or said about Vickers and his No. 55 Aaron's Dream Machine team, fielded by Michael Waltrip Racing.
Two health scares and the business of rebuilding a career as a full-time driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series can reshape one's perspective.
Perhaps the bad days aren't so bad and maybe the good days are a little more special for the 30-year-old.
Perhaps, but Vickers competes with more than a "just happy to be here" attitude. He can, and does, get riled when the occasion warrants.
Such was the case at Darlington this past weekend, when he was penalized for missing the commitment cone at the entrance to pit road just beyond the 300-lap mark of the race.
"I hit the wall at 170, 180 mph with a blown right front (tire); the cone was the least of my concerns," Vickers said of the incident. "How about a little consideration? I think that was a bad call.
"Obviously, I know the rule. But we've got enough problems right now. I'm sitting backwards on pit road with a blown right front, my shoulder is killing me because I hit the wall at 170, and we're worried about penalizing us another lap for missing the cone? I just think that's absurd."
The accident cost Vickers and his team two laps; a second blown tire a short time later put him three down by the time the checkered flag appeared.
It was a disappointing ending in a race that had seen him lead twice for 30 laps. Ninth in points heading into the race, he fell four spots to 13th.
A three-time winner at the Cup level, including last season at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Vickers is getting re-acquainted with running a full Cup schedule. In 2013, he raced full time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for Joe Gibbs Racing while sharing seat time in the No. 55 with Mark Martin and team co-owner Michael Waltrip.
A blood clot issue that returned late in the year cut his season short in both series; the unexpected finding surfaced soon after MWR officials had named him to drive for the team full time in 2014.
The announcement of his setback also came at a time the organization was already embroiled in controversy stemming from the finish of the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Fallout from that incident eventually resulted in the downsizing of MWR from three to two full-time Cup teams and the loss of longtime sponsor NAPA.
Nearly half a year later, the opening weeks of the 2014 season have been not only about the resumption of Vickers' Cup career but MWR's attempt to rebuild its credibility within the sport as well.
Vickers, the 2003 Nationwide Series champion, appears to be taking it all in stride.
"Considering the circumstances and what this team has gone through the last couple of years, what I've been through in my life, the fact that we're out here leading laps and contending for wins is pretty frigging awesome," he said. "To think a couple of years ago I wasn't sure if I would ever race again; and again last year I wasn't sure if I would ever race again.
"We lost a team at MWR, (we) lost a lot of good people, unfortunately, losing a sponsor. But the team is resilient; no one gave up."
Least of all Vickers.
Former lead engineer Billy Scott now serves as crew chief, replacing Rodney Childers. Vickers has posted three top-10s this year, including a best of fourth at Texas Motor Speedway.
"We're still contending for top-fives … and contending for a Chase spot," Vickers said. "I'm really proud of what this team has done."
Getting back into the winner's circle would be a big deal.
Given everything they've overcome, in some ways they're already there.