Optimism abounds on the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine heading into the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
Driver Brian Vickers and the Billy Scott-led crew begin their second full season together at Michael Waltrip Racing. The goals are simple for the No. 55 Toyota: win races and earn a berth in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“It’s why we race and why we come to the track every weekend,” said the 31-year-old Vickers who will again team with Clint Bowyer at MWR. “We’ve won before, we know what we can do and this year we will do it.”
Vickers appeared destined for a Chase berth in 2014.
The No. 55 climbed to eighth in points going into the June Dover race. Mechanical issues and accidents during the summer derailed those plans. A strong run in the fall that included a pole at Talladega returned Vickers to the front of the field ending the season with three top-five and five top-10 finishes.
Vickers knows success doesn’t come easy at the Sprint Cup level, but he’s hurdled challenges all his life. Twice the Thomasville, N.C. native has overcome life-threatening blood clots to return to racing.
With a full year under his belt at MWR, an off-season of working with the team’s and Toyota Racing Development’s engineers, Vickers is targeting 2015 as a time to shine.
“The group of guys that Michael Waltrip Racing has put together for me to drive this Aaron's Dream Machine is one of the best teams I've ever worked with and I've been fortunate to work with some great teams over the years. I've been through a lot and I've learned the hard way how much you have to appreciate the days you have and the opportunities you get.”
As a very young man racing seemed easy to Vickers.
He started an Xfinity race the same night of his high school graduation in 2002 and the series title in 2003 seemed just the first in what would be many achievements.
As a 22-year-old he won the October 2006 Talladega race before joining Red Bull Racing in what was expected to be the sport’s next powerhouse organization. Severe growing pains saw the team struggle on the track despite Vickers winning the August race in Michigan.
Those on-track struggles seemed minor compared to the news a doctor delivered in 2010 when he told Vickers that blood clots in his lungs required immediate hospitalization and likely the end of the once promising career.
“Essentially my lungs stopped working and I couldn't breathe and went to the emergency room,” recalled Vickers. “It was a pretty painful experience.”
He immediately stepped out of the car and began the battle for his health. Blood thinners and trips in and out of the hospital cured the health concerns and he returned to racing in 2011 with Red Bull.
As the season rolled on it became apparent the race team wasn’t as healthy as its driver and shut its doors after the season. Vickers returned to the Xfinity Series with Joe Gibbs Racing and added a partial Sprint Cup schedule driving Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 Toyota.
He posted three top-five finishes in eight races in 2012 and continued that success in 2013 culminating in a victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July. A blood clot resulting from a boot he wore recovering from a sprained ankle sidelined Vickers in October that year.
The on-track success in 2013 combined with his work with fans and sponsors paid dividends when MWR and Aaron’s announced Vickers would take over the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine in 2014 and beyond.
The 2014 season saw a return to health and included Vickers serving as a national representative in a television ad campaign for the education and treatment of blood clots.
1991 At age 8, Vickers purchased his first yard-kart with saved allowance money. Not long after, a friend of the family suggested he move up to a real racing go-kart and start competing in World Karting Association (WKA)-sanctioned races.
1994-97 Won more than 80 races across the country and garnered three WKA national championships.
1998 Moved to the 3/4-scale stock cars of the Allison Legacy Cars Series earning five wins despite racing against competitors twice his age.
1999 Entered Late Model Stock racing in NASCAR’s Weekly Racing Series in 1999. Six wins, eleven poles, becoming the youngest feature winner at historic Hickory Motor Speedway plus Motorsports Magazine’s “Rising Star of the Year” award predicted a bright future.
2000 Raced in the USAR Hooters ProCup Series where he scored Rookie of the Year honors also becoming the series’ youngest winner.
2001 Finished runner-up in the ProCup title chase and embarked on a four-race Xfinity Series schedule.
2002 Competed in 21 Xfinity races. He graduated with honors a full semester early from Trinity N.C. High School in May of 2002. On the evening of his graduation, Vickers was the highest-qualifying rookie at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.
2003 His performance caught the eye of the late Ricky Hendrick who convinced his father Rick Hendrick to hire the 20-year-old to drive the No. 5 Xfinity entry for Hendrick Motorsports in 2003. Vickers didn’t disappoint winning three races and becoming Hendrick Motorsport’s first-ever Xfinity champion.
2004 Xfinity success earned Vickers a full-time Sprint Cup ride in the No. 25 car for the Hendrick team in 2004. Again, he lived up to expectations winning two poles his rookie season and posting four top-10 finishes.
2005 He won the non-points-paying Open race at Charlotte and posted five top-five and ten top-10 finishes.
2006 Scored his first Sprint Cup victory at Talladega on Oct. 8. Posted five top-five and nine top-10 finishes.
2007 At Red Bull Racing, earned Toyota its first top-10 finish in his first-ever start, its first top five and led the most laps of any Toyota team during the season.
2008 In 2008 Vickers scored seven top-ten finishes and finished runner-up in Pocono.
2009 Earned first win for the Red Bull Racing Team and the second of his career in August at Michigan. Earned his first berth in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
2010 In May, blood clots in his leg, lungs, and finger hospitalized the 26-year-old. He competed in only eleven races.
2011 Vickers made a full recovery and competed in every race for the Red Bull team posting three top-five finishes. Team announced it was closing its doors at end of year.
2012 Vickers agreed to the partial schedule at MWR sharing the driving duties with Mark Martin and Michael Waltrip. In eight races with MWR in 2012, Vickers led 158 laps and averaged a 13th place finish.
2013 Drove the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine to victory lane in July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway giving MWR its seventh career Sprint Cup victory. Missed final three races of season with reoccurrence of blood clots.
2014 Returned to full-time Sprint Cup competition posting three top-5 and nine top-10 finishes.