After most of a season off recuperating from blood clots that threatened his career, Brian Vickers was eager to get back in the saddle at Daytona last month.
Getting back in his No. 83 Red Bull Toyota Camry—complete with a new paint scheme—was all he’d been thinking about once the 2010 season ended. Well, that and all that he’d been through, including heart surgery, enforced layoffs and a massive change in perspective.
“Going through this is definitely going to change my perspective,” he said. “I think what I went through changed me more personally. It changed who I am and I grew a lot as a person. I still have a lot of growing to do and I am sure there are plenty of people that would point that out. I definitely took a big step up the ladder through this experience.
“I have no doubt that going through this experience and how its changed me personally is going to show up on the race track. My opinion is that it’s going to show up in a better way. I think it’s going to be a benefit to how we perform on and off the race track. There may be times when it’s not, but I believe that the perspective and the growth that I’ve had personally is going to be a positive out there on the race track.”
That said, he was looking forward to making noise in NASCAR’s biggest race.
He did, but it wasn’t the kind of noise he was after.
The 17-car pileup in the early going claimed Vickers, crash damage rearranging the right side of his Camry and ending his hopes of a Lazarus-like comeback at Daytona.
“It was a very special moment for me,” BV said after the race was over. “To not finish with a car in one piece, not so much…I want to be mad. I want to be angry. I want to be disappointed. But I have to honest with you, I’m having a hard time being that.
“It sucked being in a crash, but it felt fantastic getting back in a race car. It felt so good. I can’t tell you how happy I was to be back.”
It didn’t get any better at Phoenix, as an early contretemps with Matt Kenseth relegated him to 30th place at the end.
As such, Vickers was a little more fiery than normal while watching his Camry get pounded back into shape for the second week in a row.
“The 17 (Matt Kenseth) ran us into the wall, door-slammed us into the corner coming out of turn two, just 67 laps into a very, very long race,” Vickers said. “I felt like it was unnecessary and I’m sure it will come back to him.”
With that veiled threat hanging in the air, Vickers packed up and went to Vegas, where he finally got rid of the comeback blues.
Las Vegas was the start of something better. In logging his first top-10 since Darlington last May, Vickers could see the light at the end of a tunnel, and he was reasonably sure there wasn’t a train behind it.
“Today was finally the good start to our season we have needed,” he said. “We have to keep it up and chip away at the points inch by inch each week. We made the most of everything today and got every drop we could out of the car -- the guys did a great job in the pits and with adjustments.
“Everyone gave 100 percent and that’s all you can ask for.”
With a week off between Vegas and this week’s race at Bristol, Vickers hopped a jet with friends and went out of the country. Off-weekends are rare in NASCAR’s top division, and one takes what one can get.
But it still leaves him with hope for Bristol, the coming race at Auto Club Speedway and Martinsville, where he has run very well in the past.
Vickers has a new teammate in Kasey Kahne, and the two are getting along well. An example of that came at Phoenix, where Vickers and crew chief Ryan Pemberton adopted Kahne’s Kenny Francis-prepped setup for qualifying and the race.
“We’ve always got along good,” Kahne said of Vickers. “We’ve never really done a whole lot together as far as racing, but we’ve got along good. Brian’s a really good driver, so I feel like we can work together well. I think we can learn a lot from each other and work together as teammates to help each other and to help our company.”
For his part, Vickers welcomes Kahne as a teammate, if only for a season.
“We got along as opponents so I can’t imagine we’re not going to get along as teammates,” Vickers said. “His experience level is going to bring a lot to the table. That’s something Red Bull hasn’t had. I’m not going to get into whether or not he’s a better, more successful, less successful driver -- that really doesn’t matter.
“The point is that Scott (Speed) brought his own talents, but he didn’t have experience. You can’t just make that, you can’t just create that. It just takes time and that’s something Kasey does have. Kasey has experience and depth in the sport. I can lean on him, he can lean on me. When he starts talking about something he’s tried at a particular track or a car setup or something that’s bothering him in the car -- he has the experience to back it up.”
Since that dreadfully character-building season of 2007, Team Red Bull has come a long way, Vickers said.
“When I was hired at Red Bull as the first driver, gosh, I was like maybe the fifth or sixth employee,” Vickers said. “Literally I walked in the shop and it was just me and a handful of other guys. It’s incredible to watch the team go through everything it’s gone through and grow as much as it has.
“Where we’re at right now, I really believe is as good as we’ve ever been as an organization. From a direction, a culture, a structure, a passion, a drive -- I think the enthusiasm within the team on both cars within the race shop in the highest it’s ever been. Having two experienced guys that can lean on each other is the best it’s ever been. Honestly, I’m really excited about 2011 and the growth I’ve seen through the years.”
When it gets right down to it, though, Vickers is still the same guy he was before all this happened.
“When Sunday rolls around I still want to win,” he said.
Are you a Tweeter? @NASCAR_Rewards is the Twitter account, and look for us on Facebook at NASCAR RacePoints!