Friday, August 31, 2012

Vickers Has Earned Another Chance

Vickers has run well this season
Brian Vickers has made the best of his part-time ride with Michael Waltrip Racing this season. The question now is, will it pay off? 

The former NASCAR Nationwide Series champion was left high and dry when Red Bull Racing cashed in its NASCAR chips at the end of the 2011 season. A tempestuous campaign that included numerous wrecked race cars and on-track confrontations with Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart arguably lowered his stock in the NASCAR garage, and the best offer he received for 2012 was a limited, six-race slate at the wheel of MWR’s No. 55 Toyota. 

Vickers has taken that meager ball and run admirably with it, recording Top-5 finishes in three of his six starts this season, en route to an average finish of 14.3. That statistic would be even better if not for a blown engine suffered during pace laps at Watkins Glen that relegated him to a disappointing, 43rd-place showing.  

There is no doubt Vickers has made the most of his limited opportunities this year. And yet, he is likely to take the green flag only twice more in 2012, with Mark Martin wheeling the No. 55 Toyota in nine of the season’s final 12 races and Waltrip =slated for duty at Talladega Superspeedway on October 7. 

Thus, despite a thoroughly impressive 2012 effort, it looks like another winter filled with uncertainty for a driver who has faced more than enough uncertainty in recent years. 

Three Top-5 finishes in six starts
His 2010 season came to an early end after he was diagnosed with potentially life-threatening blood clots in his leg and lungs. Surgery later that year to repair a congenital heart defect cast his career in further doubt, and while he returned to the sport after completing an arduous course of blood-thinning medications in January of 2011, only to be left without a full-time ride when Red Bull bailed out at season’s end. 

At age 28, Vickers is hardly in the twilight of his career. But after recording just two victories in 117 career Sprint Cup starts for Hendrick Motorsports and Red Bull Racing, the North Carolina native is in danger of being surpassed by drivers just over half his age. Quality seats are difficult to come by in this day and age, and while MWR would like nothing better than to secure additional sponsorship, add a fourth car and run Vickers full-time in 2012, the team has -- so far -- proven unable to do so.  

Similar scenarios apply at Joe Gibbs, Richard Childress and Roush Fenway Racing; all of whom could expand to four cars next season, but only after signing significant new sponsorship. The open seat in Penske’s Racing’s No. 22 Shell Pennzoil entry will likely be filled by either Sam Hornish, Jr., or Joey Logano next season, leaving Vickers to compete for possible openings with the usual roster of mid-pack teams. 

Sources say BK Racing has expressed preliminary interest in Vickers, and Phoenix Racing could be interested, if team owner James Finch is able to keep the doors open and driver Kurt Busch goes elsewhere in 2013. Most likely, however, is a return to Michael Waltrip Racing for another severely limited slate of events. 

With his health and competitive edge intact once again, Vickers clearly deserves better.

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