The NASCAR field may have been in Charlotte, North Carolina, to battle for a $1 million purse in Saturday night’s All-Star Race, but many of the drivers were also thinking about the guy who couldn’t be on track with them.
A day before the race, No. 83 Red Bull Toyota driver Brian Vickers announced that he would be out for the rest of the season, due to the blood thinner medication he needs to dissolve clots in his left leg and lungs.
When something like that happens to a fellow driver, the NASCAR family closes ranks.
"I'm a good friend of Brian's — I feel for him and that team,” said four-time NASCAR champion and former teammate Jeff Gordon.
“When I heard about everything from the beginning, I was really concerned for him. I spoke to him the other day. He's handling it well; it's a tough thing to go through. He's smart enough and he's got good people around him that are giving him good advice. The most important thing is for him to get healthy. That race car and racing will be there for him.”
Gordon spent three years as Vickers' teammate at the Hendrick team beginning in 2004, and during that time took the young driver under his wing. Vickers admits to wearing his former teammate out with all his questions.
There's no doubt in the paddock that the NASCAR community will rally around Vickers and support the 26-year-old in whatever way he needs.
“I think anybody in the garage will do what they need to do to try to help,” Kevin Harvick said. “Everybody is just wanting to know what caused it, and make sure there is not anything that we're doing that could be a common thread or anything like that. Anytime something like that happens, you just want to know why.”
That sentiment was echoed by Kurt Busch, whose mother developed a blood clot in her leg following a recent surgery. Busch reached out to Vickers after hearing the news and hopes the driver will be back on track soon. Of course, he’s also concerned about the cause of the clots Vickers suffered and whether it has anything to do with racing or the lifestyle that comes with it.
"I'm curious to learn some of the results as time passes, but it's a private matter for Brian; if he wants to share what's going on then he'll let us know,” Busch said.
“It's a pretty serious matter when you have the blood clots and then you're on the blood thinners and different medicines. The activity levels that you're used to doing, now everything changes. Hopefully, everything goes well for Brian and he can be out on the track next year."
For now, no one knows why Vickers developed the clots in his leg and lungs. While doctors are continuing to run tests, they said on Friday that the cause may never be found.
If all goes well with the recovery, Vickers will be back in the car for the 2011 season. But the rest of the garage also knows exactly what Vickers will be going through for the next six months as he sits on the sidelines watching the cup series continue without him.
“Obviously you don't want to sit in the garage and watch your car go around. I had to experience that a little bit and watch those guys practice my car while I was at home sick,” said Harvick.
“Mine was a just a day of illness but this sounds like it is going to be a little bit. It is definitely not something that you want, but obviously your health comes first.”
Even if racing comes second, the Red Bull Team was on track Saturday night in the All-Star Race with Vickers in attendance. When he was introduced with his stand-in Casey Mears, the crowd showed their support too.
Once things got going, Mears ran well early in the All-Star Race but trouble began for the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota when it tangled with Mark Martin coming out of the pits and developed a left front tire rub. Mears lost ground on the leaders from there and was lapped just as the first of the four segments in the All-Star race came to an end. He got the lap back almost instantly as the lucky dog driver when the caution flag flew to end the segment.
The 100-lap All-Star event runs in four parts with competition caution flags flying at the end of each segment to allow for optional pit stops. The first segment is 50 laps, followed by two 20-lap sprints and then a final 10-lap shootout for the All-Star win.
Although Mears steered clear of a seven-car crash on the restart for the final 10-lap segment, he could not avoid hitting the wall four laps later after his right front tire blew. The car went straight to the garage and did not return to the track. He finished 16th.
Scott Speed's finish most likely would have been much better had rain not wiped out Showdown qualifying. On Friday, his No. 82 Red Bull Toyota timed in eighth with four cars still to qualify. But the rain came, and the lineup was set on a blind qualifying draw. So Speed started 18th in the short heat race that granted the top two finishers a berth into the All-Star Race.
Speed fought a "silly unstable" handling condition in the first 20-lap segment and climbed to 13th after the first caution and ensuing pit stop, but the race went green for the final 19 laps, and Speed was trapped in traffic as the frontrunners checked out. He ended up 14th, besting last year's rookie Showdown finish of 19th.