The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to its smallest, slowest and oldest oval next weekend, when it will journey to historic Martinsville Speedway in Southern Virginia.
And when it does, Brian Vickers will again behind the wheel of Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, as the three-time champion continues to rehab a burst fracture of his L1 vertebrae suffered in a sand-rail accident on Jan. 31.
Vickers, of course, is no stranger to the substitution game in NASCAR. Since 2010, he has run a full 36-race Sprint Cup schedule only once, as he’s had to deal with a variety of medical issues related to blood clots.
With March being Blood Clot Awareness Month, the No. 14 SHR Chevrolet will again carry sponsorship from Janssen Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation.
No one knows how long Stewart will be out and Vickers’ deal is pretty much race-to-race, as he and Ty Dillon have split seat time in the car.
Next Sunday’s STP 500 will be a big race for Vickers, given that Martinsville is just 60 miles north of his hometown of Thomasville, North Carolina.
"I actually remember going to Martinsville as a kid and watching races," said Vickers. "We stood in the corners before pit road changed and watched the cars go by. As a kid, I always thought it was pretty cool the train went by the racetrack.
"Martinsville has always been a special place for me whether it was as a fan, running my first stock car race there, running Late Models or, now, running in the Cup Series."
And based on recent history, Vickers has a realistic shot of a strong finish at Martinsville. In three races at the 0.526-mile track in 2012-13, Vickers had one runner-up finish, one third-place finish and one sixth-place run.
Of course, what he really wants next one is one of the famous Ridgeway Clocks grandfather clocks that the track gives to each race winner.
"I’d love to get a clock. I don’t have one of those, yet," said Vickers. "We’ve come close. We’ve led laps but we need to get a clock. I think it’s a beautiful piece. It’s one of the most unique and special trophies, I think, on the circuit. I know a few guys who have one — it’s one of their prized trophies."