Six races. Three Top Tens. Three Tops Fives. Put another way, the story of Brian Vickers’ 2012 season may be entitled “Making The Most of Limited Opportunities.” He almost pulled it off at Bristol. It would do a great deal to ease the pain of the past couple of seasons.
Can you imagine being in his shoes? After scratching and clawing to help get Red Bull Racing on the map, there seemed to be a payoff for “The Sheriff” when he pulled into victory lane for the second Michigan race that got him in 2009 Chase. Unfortunately, Vickers’ greatest triumph would quickly be followed by his greatest trials.
Vickers scuffled in the Chase as it essentially settled into a two man battle between Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin. After respectable runs at New Hampshire and Dover, the North Carolinian faltered to 37th at Kansas, limped to a 29th at Auto Club, and hobbled home with a 34th place run at Charlotte. While former Hendrick teammate Johnson breezed to the title, Vickers finished the season 12th, not even qualifying for a banquet seat.
It only got worse in 2010. He struggled out of the gate and then doctors found that Vickers had blood clots, and treating the problem would require sitting out the remainder of the season. Then in 2011 the only good thing that you could say of his season is that he was back out racing again. A 25th place finish in the standings was not exactly the exhilarating comeback story he had hoped to write; and then to top it all off, Red Bull found itself closing up shop on their NASCAR Sprint Cup Racing operation.
Vickers was among the drivers passed over by Penske Racing, who instead selected Vickers’ former Red Bull teammate A.J. Allmendinger. For a time, it seemed like maybe, Vickers was about finished.
Thankfully for Vickers, opportunity has presented itself well in the form of a seat sharing arrangement in the 55 car at Michael Waltrip Racing. Mark Martin gets enough starts to scratch his racing itch, owner Michael gets to mug it up in is native South for the sponsors (Aaron’s) at the plate tracks, while Vickers gets the handful of remaining races that have included the road courses and the races at Bristol.
How’s that worked out? Let’s see….Vickers finished fifth at Bristol in March, a respectable 18th at Martinsville on April Fools’ Day, he finished fourth at Sonoma in June, 15th at New Hampshire and fourth on Saturday. The only real ding in the armor was finishing dead last at Watkins Glen. In 2012, at six challenging races, Vickers has an average finish of 14.8. That’s better than his cohorts Martin and Waltrip (yes, he’s outperformed his boss). That’s also better than wild card contenders Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Marcos Ambrose, and Joey Logano.
Can you believe this? Brian Vickers has run only one quarter of the schedule and he’s 35th in points. You extrapolate his average finish over a full schedule, and he’s easily in the top 20, and even if you give him a mulligan for one or two duff finishes, and it’s quite possible Vickers is running right up there with Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer to give the Clown Prince of Racing 3 (!) entries in the Chase!
Perhaps someone should just politely suggest to Mr. Waltrip that it’s time to enjoy being an owner, and that if Martin wants to be a part-timer, maybe he should just enter his own ride. No matter how you slice it, Brian Vickers has demonstrated in his limited 2012 appearances that he belongs in a Cup ride, there’s plenty of time on his biological clock to provide some owner a driver with the talent and the perseverance to be a worthwhile addition.