Brian Vickers never expected an easy ride as a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series rookie. After winning the Busch Series championship in the final race of 2003, Vickers was tabbed by the national motorsports media as an early favourite to win the ...
Brian Vickers never expected an easy ride as a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series rookie.
After winning the Busch Series championship in the final race of 2003, Vickers was tabbed by the national motorsports media as an early favourite to win the Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year award this year.
So far, the #25 Hendrick Motorsports team has struggled through an adjustment period in the sport's top level, but Vickers hopes to change his luck on Sunday at Darlington Raceway in the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 (1:00 p.m. ET on FOX).
"Of all places on the schedule, Darlington is my favorite because it presents so many challenges for a driver," said Vickers, who led 38 laps to win the Busch Series race at Darlington last August. "From changing track conditions to its tire-eating surface, Darlington has a mind of its own."
A crash in the Daytona 500 left Vickers with a 39th place finish in the season opening race. The following week at Rockingham, Vickers qualified 20th and worked his way up to a 16th place finish. The team managed top-3 starting spots in each of the past two races, but struggled with the race set-up and were taken out of contention early.
"We've got to get our cars better for Brian at the beginning of races," explained crew chief Peter Sospenzo. "The last couple of weeks we've gotten behind in the beginning, giving up everything we gained by qualifying like we have. By the end of the races we've had our car handling well, but by then we've sacrificed too many positions. We need to be able to maintain position early. If we can do that, the results will follow."
For his part, Vickers is getting more comfortable in the car every week and recognizes that the level of competition in the NEXTEL Cup Series is much less forgiving than any other series he's raced in. Despite his youth -- Vickers is 20-years-old, by far the youngest driver on the circuit - he feels like he's gaining valuable experience and that the team will be competitive.
"I have confidence in these guys and I feel they're the same way with me," admitted Vickers, who will start 28th in his GMAC Financial Services Chevy on Sunday. "We're still getting adjusted to working together, building the chemistry within the team and getting the communication working without any problems."
Vickers is 28th in the championship standings after four races. He trails Kasey Kahne, Scott Wimmer, Johnny Sauter and Brendan Gaughan, who are also challenging for the rookie of the year title. Kahne has dominated the headlines so far this season, nearly winning at Rockingham in his second series start and claiming two poles, including this weekend a Darlington.
"Knowing most of the other rookies like I do, nothing has surprised me," Vickers said "Everyone realizes the strength of this year's rookie class - our collective experience and the caliber of teams we're all associated with. The only thing that would surprise me is if the rookies didn't have a strong showing each week."
Vickers began racing go-karts 10 years ago before graduating to the Allison Legacy Series ¾ scale stock cars in 1998. He was the Hooters ProCup rookie of the year in 2000 and challenged for the series championship in 2001 while running a limited Busch Series schedule with his family owned team.
"I've progressed quickly throughout my racing career, but I've only moved up to another series after I had achieved reasonable success in the division I was racing in at the time," Vickers explained. "My dad, along with several other people who have helped me with my career, paid very close attention to my progress. When and only when I was ready, they moved me up the ladder. So far things have turned out pretty well."