Race Weekend Central

The Yellow Stripe: Brian Vickers Returns to Cup Racing With a Crash, Bang & a Wallop

2009 was a career year for Brian Vickers. Not only did he pick up his second victory (at Michigan, where he started from the pole); he also set personal bests for top-10s (13), poles (six), average start (14.8) and average finish (17.3) as well as making the Chase for the first time in what was his sixth full season running Sprint Cup.

Sure, he finished dead last (12th) in the Chase, but he’d made the big dance and what’s more he’d beaten out Kyle Busch to take that final spot. Let’s not forget, either, that in Red Bull Racing’s first year, Vickers failed to qualify for 13 races – a whopping third of the schedule so after such a positive year, filled with so many promising signs, the established wisdom was that it was only going to get better for Vickers.

Then came 2010 and it couldn’t have been more of a contrast. Blood clots in his leg and lungs led to two medical procedures to close a hole in his heart. In addition, he had a stent implanted into a vein in his left leg and was had to take a stringent course of blood thinners. To say it was shocking to hear for a 26-year old professional athlete is putting it mildly. But it was far, far worse for the man himself who had to step out of the car after just 11 races. Never was he told categorically he wouldn’t be able to race again but there were periods when it was very definitely in question.

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Thankfully, Vickers made a full recovery and when he returned to the car in a test at Daytona in late January he was practically giddy with excitement to be back in the car. Before the start of the Great American Race, his first since the Showtime Southern 500 back in May 2010, Vickers was upbeat when discussing the unexpected turn of events that befell him last season: “We all have our own battles we struggle with. But I do believe everything happens for a reason. And you can learn through the struggles you have in life. The future is always changing, but right now I feel pretty good about it.”

Just 29 laps into to his seventh Daytona 500, his race was over before it really began when an ill-timed David Reutimann lane change led to his team owner, Michael Waltrip, spinning the double zero, triggering a vicious 14-car pileup. Vickers returned to the track in 41st position and made up 10 spots despite finishing 48 laps down.

After the race he was quick to acknowledge the fact that he was back racing period. “It was a very special moment for me. To not finish with a car in one piece, not so much… I want to be mad. I want to be angry. I want to be disappointed. But I have to honest with you; I’m having a hard time being that. I probably should be. I’d give anything right now to be in victory lane and win the Daytona 500.”

With chaos, carnage and, at times, zero control of your own fate being just a few of the vagaries of plate racing, it’s probably fair to say Vickers would have chalked up Daytona to being “one of them racing deals” and headed out to Phoenix with a top 10 in mind and a proper kickoff to his comeback season. But that wasn’t to be as for the second straight weekend, Vickers limped back to the garage early with a busted racecar following contact with Matt Kenseth on lap 67; an accident that triggered a huge 13-car wreck, not dissimilar to the mess that had swept the No. 83 away back down in Daytona.

In the garage Vickers was far from diplomatic in his assessment of the incident: “The [No.] 17 (Matt Kenseth) ran us into the wall, door slammed us into the corner coming out of turn 2, just 67 laps into a very, very long race… Everyone is racing hard. Everybody wants to win and do well. Track position is really important out there right now… I felt like that was pretty unnecessary this early in the race.

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“I would have felt that was unnecessary at the end of the race. That’s fine; we’ll come back from this. I hate it for the Red Bull crew; we had a really good car. I was really happy with it. We were running up front most of the race.” Replays of the incident would, however, suggest that the incident was of Vickers own making and that Kenseth was largely blameless.

Vickers also added with regard to the 2003 Cup champion: “I’m sure it will come back to him.” With the new points structure this season, it will be interesting to see how many races Vickers needs to claw his way back up the standings; given the fact that poor results are more heavily penalized under the revised format.

Of course, it’s still very early days. There are plenty of races and plenty of points to be picked up and given how teammate Kasey Kahne ran at Phoenix (a solid sixth-place effort) there are still more than a few reasons to be cheerful. But for now, after just being glad to be back, it’s pretty clear the honeymoon glow the driver of the No. 83 Toyota was feeling prior to Daytona has been eviscerated by two terrible finishes.

It’s ridiculously early to be worrying about points, but this was not the welcome back Vickers was looking for and another poor finish – either of his own making or not – this weekend at Las Vegas will leave the 27-year-old native North Carolinian with a huge hill to climb. The time to turn it around starts right here and now.

About the author

Danny starts his 12th year with Frontstretch in 2018, writing the Tuesday signature column 5 Points To Ponder. An English transplant living in San Francisco, by way of New York City, he’s had an award-winning marketing career with some of the biggest companies sponsoring sports. Working with racers all over the country, his freelance writing has even reached outside the world of racing to include movie screenplays.

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