Through a tumultuous four-year stretch, Brian Vickers proved his worth, and ultimately his patience, persistence and talent have earned the former NASCAR Nationwide Series champion another full-time shot in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Starting next year, Vickers, 29, will drive Michael Waltrip Racing's No. 55 Toyota with long-time MWR ally Aaron's as his sponsor, Aaron's chairman, president and CEO Ronald W. Allen announced Tuesday morning at a press conference at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C.
Mark Martin's departure from the bulk of the driving duties in the No. 55 opens the seat for Vickers, who has shared the ride with Martin and team owner Michael Waltrip in 2012 and 2013. Vickers' deal with MWR and Aaron's is for two years, with Aaron's sponsoring all 36 points races for 2014 and 2015.
"I can't put into words how this makes me feel," Vickers said. "I've really found my home at MWR over the last few years. ... 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.
"Michael and co-owner Rob Kauffman are really building something special at MWR and are giving me the tools to accomplish those goals."
That Vickers is once again a full-time Cup driver is nothing short of remarkable. In 2010, he was diagnosed with life-threatening blood clots in his legs and lungs and missed the last 25 races of the season.
He returned to the track in 2011 for what was to be Red Bull Racing's final season of NASCAR competition and then signed on with Waltrip for eight events in the No. 55 Toyota in 2012. After a stellar performance that included three top fives and five top 10s that year, Vickers was back for more in 2012.
Competing in nine of the first 22 races for MWR, Vickers posted the third Cup victory of his career July 14 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. In addition, Vickers is running a full Nationwide Series schedule in Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 20 Toyota.
Vickers currently is fifth in the NNS standings with 11 top fives in 21 starts.
After winning the NNS championship in 2003, Vickers graduated to a full-time Cup ride with Hendrick Motorsports the following year. In 2007 he moved to Red Bull, a fledgling organization that was struggling to get up to speed.
Vickers failed to qualify for 13 races that year, but by 2009, Red Bull was competitive, and Vickers put his No. 83 Toyota in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, recording a victory at Michigan in the stretch drive to qualify for the Chase. Fearless in time trials, Vickers won six Cup poles that season.
But 2010 brought the medical problems that threatened Vickers' career. Vickers credited his parents for helping to reinforce the perseverance necessary to get him through tough times.
"One of the things they instilled in myself and my sister was 'Never give up,'" Vickers said.
By Reid Spencer - NASCAR Wire Service