Brian Vickers has always been NASCAR’s de facto “Renaissance Man” – distinguished among his mostly rough-and-tumble peers for quoting his favorite book, “The Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama, expressing his preference for Frank Sinatra’s music and considering Albert Einstein one of his heroes.
So it comes as no surprise that the eclectic Vickers, 28, is spending the other portion of his part-time NASCAR schedule driving on Europe’s most famous road courses and competing in sports car racing’s grand dame, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The real head-turner this season is how competitive Vickers has been in the Sprint Cup Series in only a few assorted starts for Michael Waltrip Racing, a schedule that will include a drive this weekend at the 1.058-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
He has two top-five finishes in three starts thus far and legitimately challenged for the win at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he finished fifth, and on the road course at Sonoma, where he was fourth. His 125 laps led at the Bristol bullring was second only to race-winner Brad Keselowski and, at that point in the season (the fourth race), easily more laps out front than his MWR full-time teammates combined (39 laps).
In fact, Vickers led nearly as many laps in that race as in his three previous seasons combined (138 laps).
“Every year that goes by you learn new things,’’ Vickers said. ”If you’re not, that’s bad.
“In general, I’m the same driver that I have been in the past. I definitely wouldn’t go so far as to say I took a magic pill or anything during the offseason.
“I think as a person you grow and evolve through life experiences for sure. There is never one piece of the puzzle. … I’m sure everyone stepped their game up. It’s not like I’ve made them (MWR) better. It’s not like they made me better. It’s a combination of all of the above.
“Sometimes it just clicks, and it just has this year.’’
While keeping Waltrip’s third car – the No. 55 Toyota – among the top 35 in the owners points is the priority for Vickers, he concedes that not running a full season or for a driver’s championship takes off some of the extreme pressure.
It changes your outlook and can change your strategy – your willingness to be more aggressive, to go for the win at all costs.
And no one more than Vickers understands what good a change in outlook can do.
The two-time Cup winner missed most of the 2010 season after being diagnosed and hospitalized with blood clots and eventually underwent heart surgery.
It scared him. And motivated him.
He had life to live.
So when Vickers was without a full-time contract for the 2012 season, he wasn’t about to sit around and lament. Instead he has traveled the world, seizing racing and testing opportunities that he wouldn’t have had while maintaining a grueling 38-week NASCAR schedule – all the while keeping a lead foot in NASCAR’s door.
And his efficient work at MWR has been duly noted.
“In general we’re out there trying to get the best finish we can every week and be consistent and get the car up in owners points,’’ said Vickers, who has a pair of top-five finishes and a pole position in his races at New Hampshire.
“If I’ve learned anything … every day in life is an audition. Don’t think that you’re just auditioning at the end of a contract of when you don’t have one because that’s not just for racing, that’s for anyone and everyone in life.’’
It’s a philosophy that could well land Vickers a full-time job in 2013. But if not, you get the idea that he’ll make the best of it.
“Obviously not every opportunity fits and not all for the same reason,’’ Vickers said. “Maybe it’s timing or chemistry or connection or budget or money or sponsors or conflicts, who knows.
“But I’m exploring all opportunities on the basis that if we can go win, let’s go.’’