Ickler Knows It’s Risky To Be Subbing for Rowdy
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
There are several schools of thought on the best way for up-and-coming racers to break into the upper divisions of NASCAR.
One is to start out in the Camping World Truck Series, or the Nationwide Series, in a middle-of-the-pack car or truck. The equipment generally isn’t the best, but the expectations and the pressures are far less. Run 10th to 15th a time or two and a Jack Roush or a Rick Hendrick or a Joe Gibbs is likely to be watching with an eye toward the future.
Or you could try to work your way into a position to run in the best of equipment. The pressures and expectations are ratcheted up a number of notches, but if you’ve got what it takes as a driver, you’ll have a vehicle that will let you show it.
Brian Ickler, a 23-year-old former off-road racer from San Diego, is taking the higher road. He’s driving the No. 51 Toyota when Kyle Busch isn’t able to make the races. He’ll be in the truck this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in the WinStar World Casino 400.
When he’s not driving the No. 51, he’s in the other Billy Ballew Motorsports entry, the No. 15. So far this year, his best finish has been a fifth at Kansas Speedway in the No. 51. He has finishes of 16th and 25th in the No. 15.
But when he’s behind the wheel of the No. 51 that Busch has driven so masterfully, anything less than leading laps and contending for wins could reflect badly on you.
It’s a risk Icker is willing to take.
“Those are big shoes to fill,” he said. “Every time Kyle gets in that truck he runs good. Hopefully we can run good too.”
He acknowledged that he could wind up looking bad if he doesn’t achieve some Busch-like results.
“That’s possible,” he said. “But knowing the equipment is so good gives you added confidence. There’s more pressure on you, but you know it can be done.”
It helps too that he has rock-solid support from Busch, who convinced Ballew to give him a chance in top-notch equipment.
“Kyle has been a ton of help,” Ickler said. “He’s helped me with the lines around the track, and he’s very involved in the set-up.”
It seems that with any team Busch drives for, their equipment gets noticeably better because of his input. It’s happened with Ballew’s trucks as well as with the Braun Racing Nationwide Series cars Busch drives on occasion.
Ickler said he’s notices that too.
“Kyle’s driven such good equipment all his life, it’s easy for him to go to a different team and pick them up,” he said, adding that it happened with his own Camping World East Series car last year.
Ickler drove Busch’s car in practice at Iowa Speedway when Busch wasn’t available and found that to be quite an eye-opener.
“I got back in my car and realized I had a lot of work to do,” he said.
But throughout his career, Ickler has done what he needed to do to advance his career. He was the SCORE rookie of the year in 2003, the same honor once earned by Jimmie Johnson and Robby Gordon. He did a turn in Bill McAnally’s Chevy in the NASCAR Grand National West Division, then moved east to run in NASCAR’s Camping World East Series, where he was a four-time winner last year.
He said that even though it looks as if he mapped out a career path similar to someone like Jimmie Johnson, that’s not the case at all.
“There was no plan,” he said. “That’s just the way it worked for me.”
He said that back in his off-road racing days, he didn’t even follow NASCAR that closely. He was more interested in his own racing.
But like Johnson and Robby Gordon, his off-road racing skills transferred nicely to NASCAR-style racing.
“Off-road helps you adapt to different vehicle and different conditions,” he said, adding that off-road events carry drivers through all types of terrain, including paved surfaces at times.
The lower Camping World divisions allowed him to build relationships with people in NASCAR and gave him a chance to run on some of the superspeedways.
But his biggest break was winding up with a race shop in the same neighborhood as Ballew and Busch.
Ballew said Busch has helped Ickler with his cars and is unwavering in his support of the youngster.
“Kyle really believes in him and wanted me to give him an opportunity,” Ballew said. “I was all for it. I think there’s something there. He’s as good as anybody I’ve seen with that small amount of experience. He’s the real deal.”
Ickler said the race shop neighbors, who often are burning the midnight oil working on their race cars, have formed a common bond. That bond will come in handy this weekend at Texas even though Busch is set to race a Cup car in Pocono and a Nationwide car in Nashville. Ickler said Busch has already agreed to help him as much as possible with set-ups and such.
“There will be a lot of texting going on, and I’m sure I’ll be calling him with questions,” Icker said.
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgNo Comment