VicKers lands full two-year deal in Waltrip's No. 55
August 13, 2013, Staff report, NASCAR.com
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Brian Vickers will drive the No. 55 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing full-time for the next two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series seasons beginning in 2014, the team announced Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The two-year deal for Vickers comes with a two-year renewal from Aaron’s, which will be the car’s primary sponsor for every Sprint Cup race through the end of the 2015 season. The Atlanta-based retailer has been a backer of Waltrip’s car owner efforts on at least a part-time basis since 2000.
“I can’t put into words how this makes me feel,” Vickers said. “I’ve really found my home at MWR over the past few years, and I've enjoyed getting to know the Aaron's associates and customers. I am honored that Aaron’s is welcoming me into their family full-time. Knowing that I have a top-notch team and a dedicated sponsor for a full season is a really great feeling every driver dreams about, and like everyone else, I want to win races and win a championship. Michael and co-owner Rob Kauffman are really building something special at MWR and are giving me the tools to accomplish those goals.”
Vickers has competed as an alternate driver in Waltrip’s No. 55 the past two seasons, filling in the gaps on the part-time schedule for primary driver Mark Martin, who has yet to announce his 2014 plans.
The highlight of Vickers’ part-time tenure was a victory this season at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 14, a win that snapped a 75-race Sprint Cup drought dating back to August 2009. The victory came during a key point in MWR’s renewal talks with Aaron’s, a fact that likely helped negotiations.
Waltrip has maintained a partnership with Aaron's since his team launched in 2000.
“The relationship with Aaron’s is very personal to me because they helped place Michael Waltrip Racing on the map in 2000 when I was running a half dozen Nationwide Series races from a small garage in my backyard," Waltrip said. "Now they are enabling MWR to continue its growth as we will have three drivers racing for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in 2014 and beyond. So much of this confidence comes from the NASCAR fans who continue to support the sponsors of our teams. I want to sincerely thank the NASCAR fans who are Aaron’s customers because you make this all happen."
The 29-year-old Vickers began his Sprint Cup career from 2004-06 in Hendrick Motorsports No. 25 Chevy, which became the No. 88 team in 2008 for driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. Ironically, Vickers scored his only Cup victory for Hendrick by bumping teammate Jimmie Johnson into Earnhardt in a last-lap battle for the lead at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2006.
Vickers joined the Red Bull Racing team in conjunction with Toyota’s Sprint Cup debut in 2007. In a five-season span, he collected seven Coors Light Pole Awards and one victory (Michigan, August 2009) before the team folded in 2011.
Vickers competed in just 11 Sprint Cup races in 2010, when life-threatening blood clots in his legs and lungs sidelined him. He returned in 2011, scoring just three top-five finishes. Vickers also drew criticism for his involvement in five of the 18 caution periods in a wreck-filled race that October at Martinsville Speedway.
Vickers struggled to latch on to a full-time ride last season, but impressed as a super-sub for Martin. After leading 125 of 500 laps and finishing fifth at Bristol Motor Speedway in his MWR debut, Waltrip expanded his 2012 schedule from six to eight races.
This season, Vickers is on schedule to compete in nine Sprint Cup races for Waltrip’s team. He also filled in for three Sprint Cup races in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota, replacing Denny Hamlin after he suffered a back injury in a last-lap crash at Auto Club Speedway on March 24.
Martin is scheduled for 24 points-paying Sprint Cup races, plus the non-points Sprint Unlimited at Daytona and the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, in the No. 55 car this season. Waltrip, who has dialed back his driving duties since his last full-time season in 2009, is scheduled for three races behind the wheel.
Vickers has competed this season as a full-time driver of Gibbs’ No. 20 Toyota in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. He currently ranks fifth in the series standings, carrying a five-race streak of top-five finishes into this weekend’s inaugural Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 (Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.