Brian Vickers, driver of the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, heads into Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon as the defending winner of the event. He’s also among the drivers still in search of his first victory of the season to secure a coveted spot in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship postseason.
On Tuesday, Vickers took time out of his schedule to participate in a NASCAR teleconference. Aside from racing at New Hampshire, he discussed NASCAR’s controversial call to Sunday’s race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway official with several daylight hours remaining, his previous health issues, and the upcoming Chase. Here’s what he had to say:
Q. Brian, you head to New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend where you won last year. A repeat this year could be your ticket into the Chase. What do you think your chances are this weekend and the remaining races before the Chase?
BRIAN VICKERS: Great question. I suppose they would be 1 in 43.
You know, I think we have a really good car. Obviously I like Loudon. Especially a track you win at you’ll always like. We also had a great test up there last week. But I know a lot of other teams tested there as well.
It’s not going to be easy, but I think we’re definitely capable of winning again. It would be a great place to have a repeat win and lock ourselves into the Chase.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll now go to the media for questions.
Q. Brian, you were a little bit critical after Sunday’s race that NASCAR didn’t wait a little bit longer to make it official. Going forward do you think that NASCAR should essentially require itself to give X amount of time or hours before calling a race?
BRIAN VICKERS: You know, great question. I think so. I think if anything really so that everyone, including the fans, and especially the teams, can make probably better decisions knowing if we’re going to wait all day or if we’re going to wait till when.
Unfortunately it can be a moving target and every track is going to be different. Obviously some tracks have lights like Daytona so you can race well into the night and some tracks don’t have lights. Some tracks have noise curfews, when you can start, when you have to stop a race, or there’s penalties.
But I think having some guidelines in place to say, Listen, at this track on a Sunday we will race until this time, on a Monday we’ll race until this time. Just kind of knowing that going in because you may make different decisions.
I mean, the weather obviously is always a variable, it’s always changing. Even when the weather service says it’s supposed to rain doesn’t mean it’s going to rain. Even when they say it’s not going to rain doesn’t mean it won’t.
There’s a reason they always say, 70% or 40% or 30% chance of rain because, you know, there’s no way to know for sure.
I think obviously I’m sure if I was sitting in Victory Lane I probably would have been fine with the decision to call the race. But when you’re second with a chance to win, you obviously want to go racing.
That’s that. It is what it is at this point. We’ll move on to Loudon.
Q. As disappointments go, where does Sunday’s rank in terms of not being able to get back out there and see what you had as far as going for the win?
BRIAN VICKERS: It was pretty disappointing. I think that we’ve had a string of some tough races after a really good start to the season. So just having the solid finish probably has a lot of value. We were more happy about that, we were pleased, but we were not satisfied. We wanted to win. When you’re that close and you can taste it, you want to fight for it.
But, listen, there was just as good of a chance that we went back green and ended up with a worse position than second. Probably a greater chance that we were going to be worse than second than better than second.
From a mathematical standpoint you have to kind of walk away and say that was a good day and move on. But as a competitor and racer, you want to win.
I wanted to win. I wanted a shot to win, just a chance. I felt that the guys on the Aaron’s team did a great job, ran a smart race, good calls in the pits, and put ourselves in a position to win.
Q. Brian, when you reflect back on the win last year at New Hampshire, obviously a momentous win for you, what is the lingering snapshot that you carry with you of that victory, and what was up with the burnout there at the end? Looked like you had to improvise the victory celebration at the end.
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, first of all, to answer the first part of your question, any win is I think always special. But that one carried a lot of meaning for me for a lot of reasons.
I think just winning with a new team, your first win with a new team, a new group of guys, is always special. It was an honor to be able to put Aaron’s in Victory Lane. They supported me through so much and helped me get my career back going.
But I think the biggest thing was, you know, kind of in Victory Lane reflecting back to a couple years earlier when I was sitting in a hospital not sure if I’d ever race again, being told there was a good chance that would never happen again.
Through the support of so many friends and family and people like Michael to give me a chance, Toyota helping me and supporting me through the process, a good team behind me, got me back in into a car, got me not only back into the Sprint Cup Series but got me back into Victory Lane. That’s probably the biggest lingering memories from the win and why it means so much.
As for the burnout, I thought we ran out of fuel. We actually found out afterwards something happened with the control unit, and it just shut down like right in the middle of the burnout, the engine cut out and wouldn’t restart. It was just a computer glitch for whatever reason.
It was pretty bad timing to have that happen. I was really pumped to melt the tires down. But better to happen in the burnout than the last lap, right?
Q. Did you have to climb out of the car, walk back to collect the checkered?
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah. It worked out pretty well. I wanted to get out of the car after the burnout, go up to the fence and high-five with some fans.
I walked to Victory Lane because they couldn’t get the car to restart. It was done.
Like I said, it could have been a lot worse. It could have happened during the race. But the control unit was crapped out for some reason.
Q. Did it seem symbolic that you were able to climb out of the car on your own two feet, walk over to the flag stand and collect that checkered flag having been through what you’ve been through?
BRIAN VICKERS: It was interesting. When the car first shut off, I was kind of bummed. In hindsight looking back, to be able to walk on the track and, like you said, collect the flag, some really good pictures that came along with it. That was pretty cool. It all worked out for a reason.
Q. Brian, with this new Chase format, you have three elimination races and essentially a one-race title race. With what we saw Saturday in a race ending early, is halfway acceptable for a race when it’s a Chase race, an elimination race, or where should that line be? For a Chase race, should it be completion regardless of how long it takes, two or three days, or three-fourths of a race? Should the Chase races be looked at differently? If they have to end sooner, where is that line?
BRIAN VICKERS: Those are all very good questions. You know, I think going back to the first question that was asking, Should there be a more formal process to win the whole race? I think there should be. I mean, again, there’s always going to be relative judgment calls that NASCAR is going to have to make. I’d hate to be in their position because someone has to make the call eventually and it’s a tough call to make.
To a certain extent they’ve kind of put themselves in that position, right? There’s some things you can certainly put down in writing to make it a lot clearer, a lot more clear, for the fans and the media alike. You just say, Okay, at this track, we have lights, we can go until this time, here is the curfew. They spent a lot of money developing that Air Titan system that dries the track really quick. Rain shouldn’t be as big of an issue with that technology.
So each track you say here is how late we have to go, here is when we can start the race by, we’re going to wait until that time. If there’s a point of no return, then you have to call the race.
To your question should it be halfway or till the full distance, again, I think that’s something that has to have some thought put into. I’m sure they have a reason for it being the halfway mark. It’s a long race and that’s a reasonable length of time to have a good race. 36 races, we don’t want to be at every track on Wednesday every time there’s a rain-out trying to finish the whole race.
I think maybe in the Chase, maybe it is a different mark. Maybe the last race, Homestead, if you have to go an extra day or so to get the whole thing in…
I don’t know. What I suspect is there’s probably a lot more into making that decision than we all realize. I know there’s a lot into it that I do realize, and there’s probably even more that I don’t.
But I do think there’s no reason we shouldn’t have some standard guidelines as to when to call a race for rain. Sometimes we seem to wait a long time and sometimes we don’t.
I know some of that decision goes into weather reports. But I don’t know, man. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a weather report that was 100% accurate. I think just setting some standards in place for when to call it, when not to, is a good idea.
To your point, maybe they should adjust for the Chase races. Maybe they should go the whole distance. I don’t know.
Q. Over your career, how have you seen give-and-take evolve, change, more of, less of, on the track now as to earlier in your career?
BRIAN VICKERS: I think there’s certainly less of it now than there was. It just depends. I mean, I don’t think there was ever any give-and-take for a win.
But when you were 20 laps into a race, at the beginning of my career, you weren’t going three-wide or four-wide, you weren’t late braking a guy and putting yourself and him in a bad position.
You know, I think some of the younger guys that have come in, and now I sound like the veterans that used to complain about me when I was a rookie, they seem to be a little bit more impatient, especially given a long race. Hey, you know what, maybe I was the same way when I was 20 years old or 18 when I first started.
I think it’s a learning curve. These races are really long. Once you figure that out, I think you see more give-and-take. There’s still some of it, for sure, but probably less than I remember.
I think also the cars have changed. When I first started, you know, I think some people are even surprised to hear this, kind of scary to me sometimes, my first NASCAR Cup race had a red patch, not a yellow patch. Although I haven’t been around as long as some of my peers, I’ve certainly been around a long time, seen a lot of changes in the car, technology, racing style.
When I first started, when you ran road courses, Martinsville, you couldn’t go 100% the whole time, you would lose your brakes. Now that’s changed.
The level of competition has changed. From first to last is a lot tighter now than what it was. That’s what makes it harder to pass. I think it’s easy for everybody to blame aero, but the reality is the air has always been there, that’s never changed, it’s just that the cars are so competitive.
Even if you race in a vacuum, there’s less than a 10th of a second separating 12 cars, I mean, you’re not going to see, you know, as much movement throughout the field with that level of competition and parity in the field.
People are a little less willing to give-and-take, like you said. But it’s definitely changed. I don’t know that it’s a bad thing. But I remember when I was young, if you put some of the veterans, guys that I looked up to growing up racing and started my career racing with, had a lot of admiration for, Terry Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, if you put those guys three-wide on lap 20, you were going to have a problem. But now it seems like that’s just okay.
Q. Brian, can you talk a little bit about your team owner, Rob Kauffman. A lot of people really don’t know him as well as you would having been at the company now for the last couple of years. Just basically his input in helping turn the place around after a little setback in September.
BRIAN VICKERS: You know, Rob’s a really interesting guy. I think he brings a lot to the table for our team. It’s great to see new young owners coming into the sport. We don’t have a lot of new owners in our sport. Most of them have been around for 20, 30 years.
He comes from a different industry. A lot of them are all very successful, very talented in their businesses, but a lot of them are in the auto industry, and Rob comes from finance. How he goes about things can be a little different, but all good.
He has been great to work with from my standpoint. You know, I think he certainly brings a level of experience and wisdom from the business world to our company. And he’s passionate about racing. He really, really loves racing. He loves to go fast. He’s one of the few owners that still drives himself. Rob still actively races.
I had the fortunate opportunity to race some with him myself in 2012 and got to spend a lot of time with him traveling around the world, running to different races.
He’s a passionate, hungry guy on and off the racetrack. He really enjoys his cars. He’s got RK Motors, his car collection. They buy, sell, collect old cars. An amazing facility based in Charlotte. He’s put a lot into Michael Waltrip Racing. He’s done a lot of racing himself.
I think that whole package makes MWR a great place. When you tell Rob the car is loose, he knows what that is. He probably was just racing the weekend before and knows exactly what that experience is like. Obviously Michael is the same way.
I think they work very well together. They make a great combination for ownership. They’re both very passionate about the sport. They’ve created a great culture and place to work. I’m very thankful and happy to be a part of MWR.
Q. There was news yesterday about the formation of this new race team alliance. I was wondering if you were aware of that coming down the pike and if you had any reaction to it?
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, I’ve heard little things here and there but not really to any large extent.
You know, I just get in the car every Friday and just drive as fast as I can, pretty much do everything I can to make that process go faster.
I don’t know enough, to be honest with you, about it to have any opinion. I think any of those questions are better addressed to Rob or the ownership group.
But in general, you know, I have a lot of respect for the owners in this industry. If they feel there’s a need, then there’s probably a need for it, so I wish them all the best.
Q. It seems like a lot of it was driven by concerns about costs. I know drivers are mostly focused on racing the car, but are you also mindful of where the industry is, sponsorship hasn’t come all the way back, is that stuff that drivers think about in general?
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, of course. I certainly think about it. We all have a love and passion for the sport. I can assure you, whatever comes of it, everyone involved cares about NASCAR, seeing it succeed in the long run. The owners, the drivers and NASCAR itself.
It’s a great industry that not only provides a great living for a lot of people in the NASCAR community and the industries that support it, but also provides some awesome entertainment for all the fans around the world that watch.
I think from longevity in the sport, there’s always concerns about cost and kind of how to make sure all that stays balanced and that the owners do well.
If they’re not doing well, then all of it kind of (indiscernible) after that. I think cost has always been a concern. It’s something that’s been talked about the day I got in the sport and it will be talked about the day I leave the sport.
But, again, I have no idea if that’s what the alliance is really about or what their goal is. That’s really better questions for them.
But as far as the cost of the sport, I know the owners, they spend a lot of money to provide a lot of great jobs for a lot of people and put on a great product for the sport. It’s always a concern for everyone that they’re able to sustain that.
Q. You said you don’t know a whole lot about it. Do you feel this will be something that you and drivers will I don’t want to say take an active role, but you’ll be paying very close attention to what’s going on, try to learn more about it, or is that out of your wheelhouse, you’ll say whatever happens happens, but we’re not going to worry about it or spend a lot of time trying to figure it all out?
BRIAN VICKERS: I think that question almost can’t even be answered yet. I don’t know enough about it to say if it’s worth enough to be worrying about it.
I think time will tell. We’ll see how this unfolds, how it takes shape, and try to be a constructive part of it or a constructive part to the industry.
Ultimately it’s an entertainment business. I’m a competitor. I want to win. After all the health issues I had, I came back racing because I want to win a championship. Basically my focus is anything that can help me get from here to there is really my focus. If that ends up being something that can help me get from here to a championship, then sounds great. If it can’t, then it’s a distraction.
That’s pretty much where I’m at on kind of everything in general, is that’s where my focus is.
Q. Rain-shortened races, when the Chase format was announced, there was the talk of a rain-shortened winner could now get in the Chase, that win would mean more than in the past. Do you like that? Is that something that makes it more entertaining? Or from a competition standpoint does it make it more frustrating?
BRIAN VICKERS: The answer is both. It makes it more frustrating and entertaining. I think anytime you throw in wild cards and variables, there’s always an entertainment value to that.
That’s part of the Chase. I think the format of if you win a race you get in the Chase is a good thing. We’ve talked about that before. Sometimes that’s going to be because you were the fastest and got to the checkered flag the soonest, and sometimes it was you were in the right position when the rain came. That’s always been part of the sport.
Obviously a win has always been a huge deal however it comes and they’re hard to come by. You can get yourself into position when the rain comes, and it’s not an easy task. I think now it takes on a whole new meaning because it locks you into the Chase for the championship.
Now a win means more than it already meant. But that’s part of it. I don’t think you can have a win and you’re in and not include a win, no matter how the win comes.
Q. Regarding your health, with the way the season ended for you last year, what concerns did you have about your struggles with DVT, blood clots, whatnot, becoming an ongoing issue to the point that it would be not only career-threatening thing but life-threatening?
BRIAN VICKERS: In general obviously it’s become a concern of mine that it’s something I’ll have to live with the rest of my life. I guess in reality, you know, we’re all very resilient but fragile human beings at the same time.
I think sometimes you realize that the easy way and sometimes you realize that the hard way. You just learn to live in the moment and appreciate everything you have as long as you have it.
But I don’t necessarily walk through life worrying about a blood clot. Do I think about it? Of course, I think about it. But I take care of myself the best I can. I do the things that I need to do.
But these are things that everyone should do. That’s kind of part of the reason I focus so much on raising blood clot awareness. It’s a bigger issue than people realize. More people die from blood clots than AIDS, breast cancer and all car accidents in the US combined and there is not a single dollar or Federal funding devoted to it. That is kind of a frustrating thing for me. But it’s something we’re working on.
I’ve been working with Dr. Mohl (phonetic) to raise awareness about the issue. We’re trying to fix some of those things. It’s an ongoing struggle.
But how it impacts me personally and professionally, last year was a shock to the system. Obviously I thought it was behind me. But I got the best medical care I could to figure out why it happened. We figured out it was because of the cast I was wearing on my foot from a sprain that triggered it.
I still haven’t been known to have spontaneous clotting, so ultimately they were comfortable with me going back racing. But it was certainly a scary time. There was obviously a big question. Again, caught it a lot earlier than the first time. We were able to avoid a lot of the pain that came along with the first incident. But nevertheless it definitely sets you back on your feet.
All you can do is keep pushing forward, never give up, just kind of keep charging forward and keep your eye on the ball. That’s what I did. Was fortunate to have the support of a lot of great people, MWR, Aaron’s, Toyota completely stuck behind me and said, Go get healthy, the car will be here when you get back, and I’m very thankful for that.