Vickers back to full-time Cup ride in 2014
13 August 2013
Michael Waltrip Racing has confirmed the long-expected news that Brian Vickers will once more be a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver again in 2014, with MWR and sponsors Aaron's announcing a full 36-race deal for the 29-year-old driver next season.
"This is a big announcement today because it shows a tremendous vote of confidence in the sport of NASCAR and the entire Michael Waltrip Racing organisation,” said the eponymous team co-owner and driver, Michael Waltrip.
Vickers won the 2003 Nationwide Series championship before moving to full-time Cup competition with Hendrick Motorsports. He subsequently accepted an offer to join the newly-formed Red Bull Racing team in 2007, but in May 2010 was forced to pull out of that year's competition after being diagnosed with a serious medical condition that left him with blood clots in his lungs and legs.
After responding to treatment which included heart surgery, Vickers returned to RBR in 2011 only to be rocked to learn that the team was to completely pull out of US stock car competition at the end of that season. That left him without a full time ride, although he accepted an offer from Michael Waltrip to drive the team's #55 car for ten Cup races per year as relief for veteran driver Mark Martin who was moving to a part-time schedule.
That set Vickers up as heir apparent to the wheel of the #55 once Martin's contract with MWR came to an end, and last month Vickers pressed home that claim to the seat by winning at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, after 75 races between visits to victory lane. That win seemed to be enough to reassure retail chain Aaron's that Vickers was the right man to carry their colours full time in 2014.
"The victory in New Hampshire certainly helped," said Aaron's director of sports marketing Rich Lamprey when asked. "Brian was a true competitor there. He really got up on the wheel and drove his heart out. It proved something to us, and that was a big moment."
“We at Aaron's are thrilled about this partnership," said Ronald W Allen, chairman, president and CEO of the home appliance, furniture and electronics, retail chain. "We're building a championship organization – and we know that Brian Vickers and the #55 team, under Michael Waltrip's tradition of winning, are focused on building a championship calibre team.
"So many of our customers are enthusiastic and loyal NASCAR fans and we are proud to be a part of a sport they are passionate about," Allen added. "We are looking forward to continued success with Brian Vickers both on and off the track."
Vickers said that he was delighted to be back in full time Cup competition, after filling out his 2013 schedule with a return to the Nationwide Series with Joe Gibbs Racing.
"I can't put into words how this makes me feel,” said the driver. “I've really found my home at MWR over the past few years, and I've enjoyed getting to know the Aaron's associates and customers. I am honoured that Aaron's is welcoming me into their family full-time.
"Knowing that I have a top-notch team and a dedicated sponsor for a full season is a really great feeling every driver dreams about, and like everyone else, I want to win races and win a championship," he continued. "Michael and co-owner Rob Kauffman are really building something special at MWR and are giving me the tools to accomplish those goals."
The handover of the full-time race seat will also see a brand new livery for the #55 for next season, unveiled on Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina attended by Waltrip, Vickers and Allen.
"The relationship with Aaron's is very personal to me because they helped place Michael Waltrip Racing on the map in 2000 when I was running a half dozen Nationwide Series races from a small garage in my backyard," explained Waltrip. "Now they are enabling MWR to continue its growth as we will have three drivers racing for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in 2014 and beyond.
"So much of this confidence comes from the NASCAR fans who continue to support the sponsors of our teams," he said. "I want to sincerely thank the NASCAR fans who are Aaron's customers because you make this all happen."
Mark Martin had already announced that he will not be returning to the team in any capacity in 2014, and has not yet announced any other plans. Vickers said that the 54-year-old veteran of over 32 years of Cup competition would be a hard act to follow.
"It's been an honour to work with Mark, and I look forward to continuing to do that [for the remainder of 2013," insisted Vickers. "I consider him a mentor. I'm in no rush. If they want me to run more races, of course I would. But my intention is to win an owners championship with Mark."