Vickers Racing, Chasing For The Little Guys
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
Brian Vickers is making a habit this season of proving wrong the conventional racing wisdom.
First he got in a crash with Dale Earnhardt Jr., the sport’s most popular driver, during the season-opening Daytona 500, but wound up getting broad support from fans across the board, including a good many members of the “Junior Nation.”
“I didn’t see that one coming,” Vickers said with a chuckle as he sat in the shadows of his motorcoach prior to the Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “It’s been a wild year, for good and for bad.
“I was pleasantly surprised by the fan reaction. There’s no doubt that Earnhardt Jr. is the most popular driver in the sport, and when the fan base as a whole, including his own fans, sided against him in the fact that he just wrecked me, and said it was inappropriate I was, as I said, pleasantly surprised.”
Vickers said the reaction also shows that it doesn’t pay to underestimate the knowledge of NASCAR’s fan base, as some in the sport tend to do at times.
“They saw the incident for what it was,” he said. “Our fan base as a whole is an amazing group of individuals. I had a new respect for them. You can’t fool them. They pay more attention to what’s really going on than they get credit for sometimes….
“They were able to put aside who their favorite driver was and view the situation for what took place.”
Vickers also addressed his decision back in 2006 to leave the powerful Hendrick Motorsport team and sign on with the Red Bull team, then a start-up operation.
“It was the most difficult decision I’ve ever made in my racing career and in my personal life as well,” he said, adding that it was in two parts – one about whether to leave Hendrick and the second on where to go after the first decision was made.
He said the decision to leave Hendrick was due in part to the emotional wounds left behind by the Hendrick plane crash, which killed several of his friends and co-workers, including his close friend and car owner Ricky Hendrick.
“It was difficult for me…just going to work thinking about that every day,” he said.
The other was his team’s poor performance despite the Hendrick equipment.
“We weren’t performing to the level of expectations that I had, or Rick (Hendrick) had or Ricky had,” he said. “I could have stayed and debated about that, but for whatever reason it was it wasn’t working, and they didn’t want to make any changes. I was left to make the change, so I did.”
Ironically, he said that decision has worked out for the better from the personal standpoint.
“I’m as close or closer to the people at Hendrick Motorsports now than I ever have been,” he said. “I’m as close or closer to Rick than I’ve ever been, and I’m very grateful for that. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
He said that he had opportunities with established teams, but chose Red Bull and Toyota because of the potential he saw.
And he said the team’s early struggles weren’t all bad.
“It made me a better person, a stronger person and a better driver,” he said. “I’m grateful that I did it, and now we’re starting to realize that potential that we all saw in the beginning.”
Now he’s in contention for a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, a position that usually goes to drivers from one of the powerhouse teams like Hendrick, Roush Fenway Racing or Joe Gibbs Racing. His seventh-place finish at AMS on Sunday moved him to 13th in the standings, just 20 points out of the elite 12. It was his eighth straight finish of 12th or better.
“To not be one of the bigger teams and still have a shot at the Chase is pretty cool,” he said. “I’m so proud of the performance of the team and how far we’ve come, the poles, the wins, but we’ve still got a lot of work ahead of us.
“We’re up against some pretty challenging folks, but I know we’re capable of it.
“We just have to do the best job we can with the things we can control, and the rest is up to fate.”
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments