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Caraviello: Vickers hopes patient approach pays off

March 10, 2012, David Caraviello,

Vickers, in MWR's No. 55 for six races, hopes patient approach pays off

In NASCAR, it's difficult to sit still while everyone else is going fast. In a sport based on speed, where everything moves at such a frantic pace, it's not easy to stand aside and watch it all go by in a blur. You're either in the garage area, riding that week-to-week wave from one race track to another, or you're not. Out-of-work drivers regularly show up just to shake hands and network and remind everyone that they're still available. With cars to prepare and races to run and a 10-month schedule that rarely lets up, to be out of sight is to risk being forgotten. You move quickly, or you face the very real prospect of being left behind.

All of which made Brian Vickers' strategy in finding his next ride so unique -- and potentially risky.

Kenseth: There's no rivalry with Vickers

Brian Vickers' six-race Cup deal with Michael Waltrip Racing raises the prospect of a renewal of the rivalry with Matt Kenseth that came to a head this past October at Martinsville -- but Kenseth says that's not likely to happen.

Hard racing at Martinsville led to intentional retaliation on the part of both drivers, and repeated contact between their cars effectively eliminated Kenseth's title hopes.

After a conversation at Homestead during championship weekend in November, the drivers had a chance to talk at Daytona, and Kenseth feels they have an understanding.

"I ran into him at Daytona -- that's probably a bad choice of words," Kenseth said at Las Vegas. "I saw him at Daytona, and we talked for a few minutes, nothing about anything racing ...

"But we talked at Homestead, and from my end, I'm not worried about anything there. So I think that's in the past, and I'll kind of leave it there."

-- NASCAR Wire Service


He chose to wait.

"Listen, anytime you have that approach, let's face it, you may be wrong," said the two-time race winner on NASCAR's premier circuit, who most recently drove for the defunct Red Bull organization. "That vehicle you're waiting for might not come along. That's a risk you take, I suppose."

This week, to a certain degree, at least, that decision paid off in Michael Waltrip Racing's decision to put Vickers in its No. 55 car for six Sprint Cup events beginning next weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. Vickers also will pilot the vehicle -- which Mark Martin is driving in 24 events this season, and Waltrip will wheel in four races -- in the fall Bristol event, as well as both races at Martinsville and New Hampshire this season. It's a quality car, one that with Martin in the seat won the pole at Phoenix last week, and has finished inside the top 10 in both races this year.

Limited schedule or not, it was the kind of ride Vickers was searching. The 28-year-old lost his full-time gig when Red Bull pulled out of the sport after last season, but he didn't want to settle for a start-and-park car or a ride that wasn't competitive. A flurry of offseason driver moves didn't leave any top-level seats available. So Vickers waited, something that isn't exactly common in NASCAR, and landed in the No. 55 on a limited basis after Elliott Sadler pulled out due to a conflict with his championship bid in the Nationwide Series.

"It was difficult. It was very difficult to sit back and stick to your guns," Vickers said. "Conviction is a hard thing, and it's not always the easy route. But I felt strong about [the fact] that I wanted to wait on the right opportunity, and what I thought was the right opportunity and the right fit. And that's a two-way street. It's got to go both ways. Time will tell if it's only six races, but these are six races that I'm thrilled about. It would be great to be full time this year, but not if it's the wrong fit. This is the one that I think is the right one. It's perfect. ... I think I'm going to look back and say my patience paid off, but only time will tell."

Granted, Vickers has been in top rides for most of his NASCAR career, and is probably better prepared than some other drivers to stand back and watch how the bigger picture develops. But that couldn't have been an easy thing, particularly after one ride, then another, then another, became occupied during the winter months. He attended Daytona 500 weekend, but only as a spectator. Given the shortage of sponsorship plaguing NASCAR's top divisions, he's had to devote time to chasing potential backing, something not unusual among drivers in this economic climate. Vickers also has the benefit of some perspective gained from his nine months out of the car due to blood clots and heart surgery in 2010.

"I would say that prior to that event, it was definitely a sense of, whoa, if you sit out a couple of months, what happens?" he said. "I would say that's in every driver's mind -- if I took a year off, or if I was out of the car for six months, or I got hurt, would I be able to get back in and go? Would it come back to me? At the end of those nine months, when I got back in, it was like riding a bike. ... To not be in a race car at Daytona was a difficult feeling emotionally, as much as I love what I do. But it's not the first time I've been out of a race car. That's a unique advantage I have when trying to make tough decisions."

Vickers is a big believer in finding the right fit -- he said as much in a Facebook video be posted Daytona 500 week to give fans some indication of what he was up to -- and the limited MWR ride qualifies, not just because the car has proven competitive. Vickers goes back a long way with No. 55 crew chief Rodney Childers, who was a standout driver on the go-kart circuit when Vickers was breaking in. "I was picking his brain every time it was available to pick," Vickers said. As a top factory driver in the next class up, Childers often was able to share information that helped Vickers along in his career. Vickers always had hoped to work with Childers in some capacity in NASCAR, but didn't get that opportunity until now.

"We kind of got in NASCAR at the same time in our lives, but never could get the stars to align to be on the same team at the same time," Vickers said. "That's why when this opportunity came up, I was excited about it. I've known the guy for a very long time, and always admired his driving and his work as a crew chief."

Next week at Bristol, the task will be for Vickers to keep the No. 55 as competitive as it has been with Martin behind the wheel. In between his starts for MWR, he'll continue to look for rides to fill out the remainder of the season. And he'll do it the same way -- by being patient, and waiting for that right opportunity to come along. As counterintuitive as it may seem, even in the speedy world of NASCAR there are times when it's necessary to slow down to go fast.

"I think my approach is still the same. I'm not going to change anything," Vickers said. "I'd love to run more races with MWR and build a strong relationship with them. But as of right now, it's six. And you know what? It's six I'm really thrilled about, and that's really important to me. Twenty would be great, 36 would be even better. But what matters most to me are the six that I'm in."

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.