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New ride for Vickers brings him full circle

January 30, 2013, Kenny Bruce,

The former Nationwide champion looks back as he moves forward

CONCORD, N.C. -- It took him 10 years, but Brian Vickers is finally, well, right back where he started.

And that’s not a bad thing.

The 29-year-old is set to embark on a 2013 NASCAR season that will see him compete full time for Joe Gibbs Racing in the organization’s No. 20 Nationwide Series entry. Additionally, he will run nine Sprint Cup races in the No. 55 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, splitting time with veterans Mark Martin and Michael Waltrip.

“The only other time in my career that I ran full time in Nationwide was in 2003 and then raced part time in Cup and ran five or six races,” Vickers said. “It’s going way back.”

That year, Vickers won what was then the Busch (now Nationwide) series championship with Hendrick Motorsports. He also competed in five Cup races (making his debut at Charlotte Motor Speedway) for Hendrick Motorsports.

His Cup effort this year will almost mirror his limited schedule of 2012. The addition of the Kentucky race will bring his scheduled starts to nine. However, he ran only one Nationwide race last year, finishing second at Phoenix with JGR.

“Last year was an amazing year and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” he said. “I got to race a great car for eight races with Mark and Michael and everyone at MWR and Toyota. Then I got to travel all through Europe and around the world racing sports cars and I loved it.

“This year, it’s back to NASCAR and back to full time again and I’m looking forward to it.”

The fact that he is racing at all is a bonus. That he is alive? 

“That’s always a plus,” Vickers said.

Blood clots and a heart condition sidelined the driver just 11 races into the 2010 season and left his racing career in question. Following surgery and treatment, he was able to return to competition the following year, running the full schedule for Red Bull Racing. But when the team closed its doors, Vickers found himself looking for work.

"This year, it’s back to NASCAR and back to full time again and I’m looking forward to it."

-- Brian Vickers

The opportunities with MWR and JGR came about because of his relationship with Toyota, according to Vickers.

“I feel like I’m splitting my time between two families now,” he said. “A lot of it leads back … to Toyota. The decisions I made … to stay with Toyota led me to these two teams, which these two teams also led me to Toyota. It’s kind of a … never-ending loop.”

With two Cup wins and three victories, as well as a championship, in Nationwide, Vickers has proven himself capable of finding his way to victory lane. He’ll likely have more opportunities given his current situation and the competitiveness of the two organizations.

In eight starts with MWR last year, he scored two top-five and four top-10 finishes. Teammates Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. qualified for the Chase, with Bowyer eventually finishing second.

The Gibbs Nationwide program is considered one of the series’ very best, having won 77 races overall and multiple wins every year since 2006. Former JGR driver Joey Logano won nine races in just 22 starts for the team in 2012.

“I’ve always heard amazing things (about JGR),” Vickers said. “I’ve had an opportunity to see how some of that works (in the) the last couple of months.”

The Dollar General sponsorship is a bonus, he said, having worked with the group previously.

“They have a passion for racing unlike most sponsors I’ve ever seen,” he said. “And that only compliments the passion that Coach Gibbs has, as well as his sons. They run a great organization.”

Vickers has often been mentioned as the most likely candidate to drive the No. 55 Cup entry full time, beginning in 2014. Whether that is indeed the case, Vickers said, remains to be seen.

“I don’t know what’s next and even if I did, that doesn’t mean that’s what’s going to happen,” he said. “I’ve figured that out the hard way.

“My focus is on 2013. I will definitely tell you that unequivocally, I’m proud and happy to be a part of the Toyota family. I feel like they feel the same way. They played an integral role in keeping me here and making all of this work and making all of this happen for 2013. I see no reason to change it from my perspective for 2014. How it looks exactly -- we don’t know yet.”