Vickers Builds on Strong First Half


Vickers will make his fourth start of the season in Michael Waltrip Racing's No. 55 Toyota on Sunday in New Hampshire. (Photo: Getty Images)


If it’s possible to build momentum after running just three races during the first half of the 2012 season, then Brian Vickers will roll into New England later this week with a full head of steam.

He’s poised to make just his fourth Sprint Cup Series start of the year, in Sunday’s LENOX Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.  The first three have gone pretty well behind the wheel of the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota.

“While it’s only been three races, we’ve had good success,” Vickers said.  “Loudon should be a great gauge of how we are performing this year.”

Vickers opened his season in March with a fifth-place finish at Bristol, where he led 125 laps – one-fourth of the entire race distance.  An 18th-place run followed two weeks later at Martinsville Speedway and in his most recent outing, June 24, Vickers placed fourth on the road course at Sonoma, Calif.

And while he’s pleased with the team’s performance at those three venues, Vickers and his MWR teammates are also taking full advantage of his part-time status.

“New Hampshire will offer me, (crew chief) Rodney (Childers) and the rest of the team the opportunity to use the knowledge we’ve gained away from race weekends.  I’ve spent a lot of time testing the No. 55 Toyota the last couple weeks and that should carry over.”

Vickers is sharing the wheel of the “55” with Mark Martin and team owner Michael Waltrip.  They’ve combined to put the car 12th in the current owner standings, 50 points outside the top 10.

“I’m enjoying what I’m doing,” Vickers said on Tuesday’s weekly NASCAR media teleconference.  “Would I want to do it more?  Absolutely!  I want to be in a racecar.  I want to win races and compete for a championship.  If opportunities open up somewhere else, I’m going to explore those.  But I’m always going to be thankful to Michael and Rob (Kauffman) for the opportunity they’ve given me, and do the best I can for them.”

Even with the rotation of different drivers in the No. 55 car this season, Vickers said the team’s chemistry is strong.

“Sometimes it just clicks and it has this year,” he said.  “The cars have been really good when we unloaded and we’ve made them better.  That just leads to good runs.  I think Mark is seeing the same thing in the car and Michael as well.”

And there’s cause for continued optimism heading to “The Magic Mile” in Loudon – where Vickers finished fifth when the tour last visited the track in September 2011.  He knows the key to another strong finish on the flat one-mile oval.

“The entry into each corner is really important,” said Vickers, who’ll be making his 14th New Hampshire start.  “A lot of guys will slide the left front into the corner and ruin the lap.   If you get the entry wrong, you can’t roll the center – which is key to getting a good exit off for the two long, high-speed straights.”

In addition to a pair of top-five finishes in his 13 previous starts at NHMS, Vickers has one pole – in July 2005.  He finished 11th in the race, which was won by Tony Stewart.

Vickers is part of MWR’s three-car entry for Sunday’s race that also includes Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. – both of whom hold spots in the top 10 with just eight races remaining in the regular season.

Should Bowyer and Truex maintain their positions over the next two months, they would each earn an automatic berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup - which opens Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams will open practice in New Hampshire at 12 p.m. (EDT) on Friday and qualify later in the day.  The LENOX Industrial Tools 301 is scheduled to get the green flag at approximately 1:15 p.m. on Sunday.  Ryan Newman is the defending winner.

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