Since 2011, Vickers, 30, has waited for the perfect opportunity to return to NASCAR Sprint Cup racing full time.
On Tuesday, that chance became official. Starting in 2014, Vickers will be the only driver of the No. 55 Aaron’s Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing.
Vickers, who signed a two-year deal with Aaron’s -- which has supported MWR since 2000 and will continue to be the primary sponsor for all 36 races -- is beyond “thrilled.” Not only because of what Vickers has been able to overcome in the past seven years but because he is genuinely grateful to have a competitive ride again.
“The opportunity to be in this car – period – if for only one race, for only one victory was huge for me on a personal level given everything that’s happened,” Vickers said. “No matter what happens next, I’m very thankful and thrilled and proud of what we’ve accomplished already. For being able come back from one point being told I’d ‘never race again’ to winning at Loudon – the opportunity to continue to try to grow with this team and try to build something and win more races and try to win a championship or more is awesome. It’s a cool thing to get back from going so much.
“There’s no way that that can’t be part of the story, but I also don’t want people to think I’m only excited because of what has happened. This is an opportunity that anyone would be excited about no matter how good things had already gone.”
For the past two seasons, Vickers supported Mark Martin’s campaign with the team by running eight races in 2012 and 12 races this year. Vickers made the most of his audition by scoring three top fives and five top 10s in those eight starts, posted a career-high average finish of 13.2 and he led 158 laps – the third most in nine seasons of competition. Last month, Vickers earned his third-career Cup win with the No. 55 team’s victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The accomplishment brought his racing career full circle with crew chief Rodney Childers. The pair worked together more than 20 years ago when Childers was enlisted to work on Vickers go-karts.
Since then, Vickers has realized the highs of winning a Nationwide Series championship with Hendrick Motorsports in 2003 to the struggles of the now-defunct Red Bull Racing and his own physical challenges with blood clots in 2010 which left him sidelined for nine months.
After Vickers ended his 139-race winless streak at Loudon on July 14, he acknowledged there were goals that led him to that point – getting out of the hospital, getting back in a race and getting a win. He tackled each obstacle with the support of family and friends throughout the process, which also led Vickers to realize there was “more to life than racing”.
“It’s human nature to get sucked into your circle or your routine and you get so consumed by it, you think that’s all there is,” Vickers said. “Yes, that’s a big part of it. That’s something that’s very important to me. It’s something I love doing. To have such a cool opportunity to race cars for a living – that’s incredible. At the same time, I think it’s equally dangerous to allow yourself to be so consumed by it that your emotional being or whether you go home and consider your life a success or not by one job.
“To have those experiences only contributed to me enjoying it more when I’m there. To me wanting it even more when I’m there. Also, stepping back a little from (racing) when you’re not at the racetrack and appreciating other aspects of life allows you to reflect on a greater performance and a greater desire when you are at the track, not less.”
Vickers is currently competing in the Nationwide Series for Joe Gibbs Racing. He’s fifth in the standings, just 18 points behind series leader Austin Dillon. On the Cup front, Vickers will run three of the remaining 14 races with the No. 55 Aaron’s Toyota – those at Bristol, New Hampshire and Martinsville.
Vickers feels having previous experience with the team and the opportunity “to build chemistry will have a big impact on next year”. He isn’t exaggerating when he adds winning a Sprint Cup championship as his next target.
“We want to win,” Vickers said. “We want to race for wins, we want to race for a championship. It’s a big goal – especially for our first year full-time together. But we feel like we’ve grown a lot together as a team. MWR is evolving in its own right. The notebook is getting thicker. The cars are getting better. Toyota’s stuff is getting better and better, and we want to compete for a championship and we feel we have that potential.
“Obviously, it’s very satisfying just to have the opportunity. You have to plan. You can’t live in modern society without planning for the future. You can’t have opportunities like this without making commitments or plans for a year or two years down the road.
“But one thing I have learned is you have to live in the moment. No matter how far ahead you plan, you have to live in the moment. It’s a hard thing to do. I try to enjoy every day and enjoy the moment and the time I have because you never know what’s coming next.”