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2012 NASCAR Driver Review: Brian Vickers

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Brian Vickers

*2012 Ride:* No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota Camry
*2012 Primary Sponsors:* Aaron’s, RK Motors Charlotte, RKMotorsCharlotte.com, MyClassicGarage.com, Freightliner, Edge Jet
*2012 Owner:* Michael Waltrip
*2012 Crew Chief:* Rodney Childers

*Stats:* 8 starts, 0 wins, 3 top 5s, 5 top 10s, 1 DNF, 35th in Points.
*Best Finish:* 4th (Sonoma & Bristol – August).
*Average Finish:* 13.2.
*Average Start:* 16.0.

*2012 Team Ranking: 3rd* of 3. While splitting seat time with veteran Mark Martin and driver/owner Michael Waltrip, Vickers helped to guide the No. 55 team to an impressive 15th-place finish in the owner standings. But the other two cars, driven by Martin Truex, Jr. and Clint Bowyer, respectively were able to make the Chase — leaving this ride perhaps the most respectable “third-place” team ranking on the Sprint Cup circuit.

*High Point: Bristol – March.* After finally gaining the opportunity to compete against Sprint Cup competition, again Vickers proved to be a nice acquisition for Michael Waltrip Racing. Upon signing an initial contract to run six races with the team, the 28-year-old wasted little time in demonstrating that he could still battle head-to-head against the top drivers in the NASCAR universe.

Vickers qualified 25th for the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway — less than two weeks after securing a ride — and promptly hit the ground running. Once the green flag flew, it took him a mere 96 laps to reach first place, a position he would hold for a total of 125 circuits around “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile” on the way to a surprising fifth-place result. An extraordinary effort from Vickers was one part of a historic day for MWR as teammates Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex, Jr. combined to put all three cars inside the top 5.

The debut was clearly better than anyone expected, especially considering a rough end for Brian Vickers at Team Red Bull last year. It was striking enough that team owner Michael Waltrip granted Vickers the opportunity to run for the organization in two additional Cup events – Watkins Glen and Sonoma.

*Low Point: Watkins Glen.* Entering the season, past results helped to shed light on why Brian Vickers isn’t considered a top-tier Cup driver on road courses; he’s had a 20th-place average finish on such tracks over the past five seasons. That trend continued in 2012, at least during the series’ annual visit to Watkins Glen International.

An otherwise sound string of results from Vickers was blemished due to a sudden mechanical malfunction suffered in the Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen. Of the six engine failures experienced by MWR drivers as a whole this season, the part-timer’s blown motor at the 3.4-mile venue came as perhaps the biggest surprise simply because his day ended before completing a single lap.

Following that unfortunate 43rd-place finish, Vickers came back better than ever two weeks later for the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol. He capitalized on his remaining opportunities by reeling off three consecutive top-nine finishes.

*Summary:* Vickers struggled to find a Cup Series job following a 2011 campaign that ended after he encountered several on-track issues with other NASCAR personalities and wrecked five times during the Chase race at Martinsville. His team, Red Bull Racing closed up shop, then sold its assets to a BK Racing program that promptly told Vickers, “Thanks, but no thanks.” In the end, Vickers only got an MWR opportunity because the team’s first choice, Elliott Sadler, was prevented from driving for another manufacturer by his bosses at Richard Childress Racing. But after settling in at MWR, Vickers began to turn heads within his new organization. It became quickly apparent after his first appearance that the extra time off and a specially tailored contract could benefit the previously embattled veteran.

The result, after completion of that eight-race deal, was a career high 13.2 average finish mark and a first ever top-5 road course result at Sonoma. Because of his on-track accolades, Vickers became one of the more talked about free agent candidates among teams shopping for a new wheelman.

Joe Gibbs was so impressed that he finalized a Nationwide Series contract for the ’13 season with the driver in early November and allowed him to pilot the Dollar General Camry in the Great Clips 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, which led to a second-place finish.

*Off-Track News:* Getting back on track was a relief for Vickers; staying there meant that negotiations would have to take place. Upon returning to Sprint Cup in top form, the North Carolina native ultimately secured his future in NASCAR by signing contracts with two organizations.

Before the fall race at Martinsville, MWR reported that their new driver would return to the No. 55 Toyota in 2013, only this time he will appear in nine races. He will keep his 2012 schedule of appearances intact while adding the Kentucky race in June.

Following discussions with MWR, Vickers mentioned that he was interested in protecting his career going forward by locking up a long-term deal. While this contract hasn’t happened, he was able to finalize an agreement to drive full-time in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Toyota in the Nationwide Series next season.

*2013 Outlook:* Vickers was unable to find a full-time ride in Sprint Cup going forward, but the pieces are now in place for him to make a serious run at the Nationwide Series title next year. The former champion recorded three wins, 13 top 5s, and 21 top 10s during a successful 2003 season with Hendrick Motorsports; expect him to repeat those numbers while becoming one of the sport’s top Cup Series free agents for 2014.

*2006 Frontstretch.com Grade:* B.
*2007 Grade:* C-.
*2008 Grade:* B+.
*2009 Grade:* A-.
*2010 Grade:* Incomplete.
*2011 Grade:* C.
*2012 Grade:* Incomplete.

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