Brian Vickers captured a strong seventh-place result in Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway after showing stellar pace all weekend long at the Virginia short track.
Following the opening six races of the Sprint Cup Series season, Vickers, subbing for an injured Tony Stewart, now has four starts in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. He now has an average finish of 20.5 after grabbing his first top 10 since Kansas Speedway in Oct. 2014.
“We came out strong there at the end,” Vickers said. “I thought we were going to get a top 5 and then we got out-tied by some of those guys. That cost us a little bit.”
Starting third for the 500-lap event, Vickers was consistently able to run top 10 during the race’s long runs. Once the final caution flew with 16 laps to go, Vickers’ crew chief Mike Bugarewicz had a tough call to make in terms of taking tires for the last stint.Despite losing spots in the final few circuits with old tires, Vickers still believes it was the right call.
“If we would’ve come in am pitted, we still would’ve been behind some of those guys that were behind us at the end of the race,” Vickers said. “I think it was the right call for us where we were sitting. I’d love to have been a little further ahead and to be able to get tires but it’s a tough call.”
The story of Vickers has been told time and time again. The 32-year-old North Carolina native suffered from reoccurring blood clots over the past six years, with each scare taking him out of the racecar.
Being told you can’t race next week is one thing, but being told you may never race again trumps all as words of death for racecar drivers.
For Vickers, an unfortunate situation in Stewart’s back injury in January revived his Sprint Cup Series career, one that had gone nearly a full year without gaining traction on the racing surface.
“It felt great to run good,” Vickers said. “We contended to be one of the best cars all weekend. I wanted to contend to be the best car at the end of the race but we weren’t quite there. We were there. They knew we were there, we contended, we ran top 5 for a while, got back to the top 5 in the end, finished seventh. It was a strong day.”
Making a statement on one of the schedules toughest tracks, Vickers was visually relieved to bring it home in one piece. However, the true racer in the three-time Sprint Cup winner wanted more from Sunday.“You always want to win this thing,” Vickers said. “We weren’t as good as we were [Saturday] and this week. I don’t know if the track changed on us or the tires. Maybe we weren’t the only ones. The [Nos.] 22 and 78 were really good all weekend and they struggled today as well.”
Earning his best Cup finish since a second-place result in a rain-shortened July race at Daytona in 2014, the next question for Vickers is if this impressive weekend has an impact on his upcoming races past next week’s race at Texas for 2016.
“I have no idea,” he said. “I am happy to drive as many races as they want. And it’s an honor to fill in for Tony. They’ve got a lot of things they are trying to juggle at Stewart-Haas right now. I know the team, Tony, they want me in the car as much as possible. There are other factors, sponsors and everything.
“It’ an honor to be in this car. I have a lot of fun driving it. I learned the hard way – even Tony might tell you this – if you have a full-time ride with a five-year contract, there’s no guarantee you’re racing next week. We saw it with Kyle [Busch], I’ve seen it many times in my career. I really just approach it one race at a time. My focus is this weekend, now my focus is Texas.”
For the first time in more than a year, Vickers will compete in back-to-back weekends on the Cup circuit.
“I’m a little spoiled right now. I don’t know if I want to race two weeks in a row,” Vickers said jokingly of the ample time off the past year. “Look, I love racing and this schedule is a grind. It is if you’re doing it every week all year.
“For me, right now, I’ve had plenty of time off. I’m looking forward to having two weeks in a row with these guys. I think it was good for us. If someone out there tells me they have a winning car and they want me to run 15 races a year for the next five years, they got my number.”