Brian Vickers has hardly had time to catch his breath in the three months since the 2009 Sprint Cup season closed in Miami…
Vickers has racked up thousands of air miles, seemingly trying to outdo the gruelling travel schedule he endures in his 36-race NASCAR season.
A short list of the places he visited in the off-season includes Aspen, Colorado, (skiing), the Bahamas (New Year’s Eve break), Cabo San Lucas, Mexico (Casey Mears’ wedding), Kitzbühel, Austria (World Cup downhill race and Wings for Life charity event), Las Vegas, Nevada, (NASCAR banquet), Milton Keynes, UK (Red Bull Racing F1 team headquarters), and Stuttgart, Germany (Mercedes F1 launch).
He also squeezed a bit of time in for work, travelling to the Texas Motor Speedway in late January for a Goodyear tire test.
But no matter how busy the off-season, the No 83 Red Bull Toyota driver couldn’t stop thinking about getting back to racing, especially because the NASCAR season starts with the Daytona 500, known as the ‘Great American Race’.
"Being the first race, and a big race, it’s always fun." –Brian Vickers
“I’m just excited to get back in the race car; I like racing at Daytona because it’s a fun track – probably not my favorite track, but it’s near the top of the list,” he says. “But being the first race, and a big race, it’s always fun.”
The Daytona 500 is also a bit of an oddity on the NASCAR circuit, with all but the front row on the starting grid set by the results of two qualifying ‘duel’ races on the Thursday before. In addition, drivers who were not in the top-35 in owner points in 2009 either have to get in on speed in qualifying a week before the 500 or race their way onto the grid in one of the 60-lap duels on the 2.5 mile, tri-oval Daytona International Speedway.
The top two drivers in the qualifying session that sets the grid for the duels lock up a front-row spot in the Daytona 500 no matter what happens in the races.
After running near the front for most of his duel, Vickers finished 10th on Thursday afternoon and starts 22nd on the grid. He took the lead with seven laps to go, but had a huge scare a lap later when he slapped the wall and damaged the right side of his car. He dropped to 16th before climbing back to a top-10 result in the final five laps.
“I think everybody had a handful out there. I was trying to block Tony [Stewart] and he had such a run. Right when he got to me, the car just got really loose and I saved it, but I got in the wall,” explains Vickers. “A lot of it is probably just the car. We’re not driving that hard. It’s just these cars, these tires, the new rules, the track…”
Vickers used the race to work on the balance of his car in preparation for the Daytona 500. He also got some added time on track during last week’s invite-only exhibition Shootout race, which helped get everyone get up to speed.
"We are supposed to be some of the best race car drivers in the world; if we can’t police ourselves then we are in trouble." –Brian Vickers
“The Shootout’s a tremendous opportunity to really learn and grow, and really get back into the rhythm of things – not just for the driver, but for the whole team,” says Vickers.
This year’s Daytona 500 sees the first use of the new, bigger opening on the restrictor plate used at superspeedways. Sunday’s race will also mark the return of bump drafting – essentially driving into the dead air behind a car, getting onto its bumper and pushing it forward. It was outlawed in late 2009, but after the ban created a yawner at Talladega last season, NASCAR reconsidered the decision and put things back in the drivers’ hands.
A good move, says Vickers: “I think they overreacted on some of the stuff in the past couple of years and they pulled us back too much. I think it hurt the series a little bit and NASCAR realized that.
“We are supposed to be some of the best race car drivers in the world and grown adults, and if we can’t police ourselves then we are in trouble. Obviously, there are some guys who are more aggressive than others and who don’t always use their heads, but I can assure you they will receive more policing within the series than others.”
Read more about Vickers and the NASCAR team at redbullracingusa.com