Vickers and Waltrip happy with the 2012 season so far

Toyota Motorsports press release

Vickers and Waltrip happy with the 2012 season so far

BRIAN VICKERS, No. 55 RK Motors Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing

What is it like to be back at the track? "Thanks to Michael (Waltrip, team owner) -- to be back in the seat. Obviously, Bristol was a great weekend for us and I was just thankful to be a part of it. It's really a testament to the team and the equipment that they have built -- that Michael and Rob (Kaufmann, team owner) have put together at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing). To be a part of all three cars in the top- five and just to be a small, contributing factor to that and to lead those laps was very special for me. Especially, my first race back. It was a really special weekend and it really meant a lot to me personally. Just thankful to be back and happy to be in a race car. Always excited to come back to Martinsville. I've always loved this place. The very first, actually the very first stock car race of my entire life was at Martinsville Speedway in the Allison Legacy Series. Then one of my earlier late model races was actually here as well. I actually raced against Ricky Hendrick in that race, which led to a very long friendship. Always good to be back and excited to be here again this weekend."

The competitiveness of going out there and performing and doing my best is as high as it's ever been.

Brian Vickers

Have you heard from people following the Bristol race? "I definitely heard from some people after the race and it was great to have those phone calls and text messages again that you get after a great run. I know Michael's (Waltrip, team owner) gone through that experience -- it's overwhelming at times, but it's also very special that so many people care to call and congratulate you on a great run. As far as the competitive fire, it's always been there. You definitely learn through life experiences and I've had plenty of those lately -- over the last couple of years, some good and some bad. The bad ones make the good ones that much sweeter. Some of the tough times over the last couple years from health things to work things made Bristol just mean that much more to me personally. The competitiveness of going out there and performing and doing my best is as high as it's ever been."

Have any races been added to your schedule since Bristol? "It did lead to some additional races. It's better than six and that's what I was looking at and six is better than none. I couldn't ask to be in a better situation. Obviously, everyone knows I feel that way with how we ran at Bristol. I just really enjoyed the team. I enjoyed working with Rodney (Childers, crew chief) -- someone I've known my entire life -- and getting to know the entire organization. I'm really pumped about it. Obviously we have a new sponsor on the car this weekend as well. We can't thank Aaron's enough for their support at Bristol and their continued support on the 55 car and MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing), but proud to have RK Motors here this weekend. I don't know if you've ever been to the website, or seen it, but it is one of the most incredible amazing car collections you've ever seen -- and, yes you can buy them. I think 400 were sold last year. That's unbelievable. Michael (Waltrip, team owner) actually knows more about that than I do."

Do you remember what year you raced Ricky Hendrick? "No, I was too young. I was 13. I think I was 13 when I ran the first Allison Legacy Series race here. And, 14 or 15 in late models, but I think it says I was 16 on record, I'm not sure."

Did you do anything last fall that makes you worried this weekend at Martinsville? "No, absolutely not whatsoever. Matt (Kenseth) wrecks me, or Matt wrecked me, and I'm sure he regrets it and I wrecked him back and I wish it hadn't happened, but that's the end of it."

What is Mark Martin's influence on this race team? "Not only has Mark (Martin) done everything that Michael (Waltrip, team owner) has said, and it's definitely shown to me, but he's even done it and contributed those resources when he's not at the race track. In Bristol, I talked to Mark almost every day and he talked to the crew and, now that I'm a part of the team . I fall into the same kind of the situation when they were at California, talking to Mark and talking to Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and talking to the team. Mark has really shown me a lot and I've learned from him. This is not just an opportunity for me to be in a race car, it's actually an opportunity for me to learn from the best in the industry and how he is not just a race car driver, but the leader of the team. He's definitely contributed a lot to everything Michael alluded to, and not just when he's here. Even when he's not here."

Brian Vickers, Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
Brian Vickers, Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota

Photo by: Getty Images

Did you think you might be considered 'damaged goods'? "Yeah, which time did I think that? That conversation -- I have had with myself many times over the last couple of years, whether it was I found out Red Bull (Racing Team) was shutting down or towards the end of last year trying to keep it going or through the off-season talking to other teams or when I was laying in hospital bed two years ago. I've just really tried to focus on the part that I can control and do the best I can and I've made mistakes. I don't always make the right decision, but for me it was about as hard as it was as times just having patience for the right opportunity and some things came along that just didn't seem like the right fit. Then I took chance and I took a pass on them, but when the right one should up I knew it instantly and the answer was yes and that's this opportunity."

Did you feel validated by your performance at Bristol? "I think as an athlete, as a competitor, and really in the sport that we live in you need validation every week. I think the industry has proven that -- you can fade away quickly. So from that standpoint, I've definitely made mistakes over the last 10 years in my NASCAR career, but I've had some really good moments that I've very proud of and Bristol was one of them. To answer your question, yeah. Obviously, it meant a lot to have that validation that for me, personally, to get back in the car and do well. Again, just to reiterate, there's just so much more to that puzzle that it's hard sometimes for the fans to see like all the things that Michael (Waltrip, team owner) alluded to -- the momentum that Mark (Martin) built into the car and the team, the group of guy that have been together and working hard towards those moments for a long time. It shows up at Bristol and it shows up this year and it's like everybody is like, 'Oh, wow. Where did they come from?' I can assure you that Michael knows it didn't happen at Bristol -- it happened five years prior to that. I know a piece of that just because of I was involved at a team that was started from scratch at the same time he was starting his team from scratch. It's a long road. It's not easy. The validation has to come every week."

Do you approach the eight races this season as make or break auditions? "Yeah, so to speak. Kind of a similar question to what we were saying with the validation, it's part of big time auto racing. It's part of any pro sport. It's what have you done for me lately. What are your results lately? And these eight races are very important to me. They're important to me because I want to do the very best I can for Michael (Waltrip, team owner) and for RK Motors and for Aaron's and the opportunity that I have, regardless of what it leads to. But, obviously, when you only have eight shots at it, you better make them count."

#55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
#55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

Is it more important to be in a competitive car part time versus racing each week? "There's always more than one way to skin that cat and some people -- and I've got a lot of great advice from a lot of different people and it wasn't always the same through the off season. To some, you've got to be there every week. To some, it's not. For me, personally, I really felt like being in a competitive car and being up front, even if it was only once or five times or eight times a year, is way better than being in all of them and not running as well. So far, we've still got seven more to go, but so far I feel like it's turned out that way. But like I said, we still have seven more to go."

Were you surprised by the fallout from last year's Martinsville race? "Yeah, I guess I was a little bit. Obviously, I didn't make the best decisions of my career, but ultimately at the end of the day Matt (Kenseth) wrecked me going into (turn) three and I wrecked him back. It's happened a lot through the sport of NASCAR and big time auto racing. I think that's actually kind of what the whole change at Bristol is about -- they want to see -- I guess everybody wants to see more of that. It just so happened for me at a time that everyone seemed like they were out to get somebody and I'm not trying to defend my actions. I'm just saying when you really boil it down that's what it was -- Matt wrecked me and I wrecked him back and it spiraled. For me, it was a lesson learned. My goal this year is for that to go away -- for that to becoming a non-issue and that's what Bristol was for me and I can't thank Michael enough for that opportunity. My goal this weekend is to make it disappear again, so that when we're back here in the next race we're talking a great run at Martinsville and everybody completely forgets about the other one."

MICHAEL WALTRIP, team owner, Michael Waltrip Racing

How do you feel about the start of the season for MWR? "It's been fun to see the cars run like they have. Bristol, obviously, might be the highlight of our existence with all three cars racing up front with the chance to win. Brian (Vickers) leading 125 laps and having the Aaron's car up front. Then to come to Martinsville and see all those trucks parked on the proper end of parking. I've had to look for my truck in some really interesting places over the years for where they may be parked. I like having them all staged up towards the front. It's very rewarding. This process has certainly been a long one and a difficult one. Some of those guys have 20 or 25 years head start on us. We've done a nice job I think of establishing ourselves as people that are going to be here week in and week out. Hopefully, win races on a consistent basis one day."

What is it about Martinsville that causes tempers to flare? "Race car drivers have selective memory. You come to Martinsville and things seem to happen and they happen in a hurry. Brian's (Vickers) body of work, if you will, has never been about wrecking people or running over people. Things happen at Martinsville that lead to contact and people get mad. That certainly never was any part of the consideration MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) had about hiring Brian because that doesn't define who he is. I know you wish that hadn't turned out the way it did, but you put it in the rear view mirror and keep digging."

Michael Waltrip, Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota crashes
Michael Waltrip, Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota crashes

Photo by: Mario Bartkowiak

Has MWR added any races to Brian Vickers' schedule since Bristol? "(Brian Vickers) was going to run six races for us and we're here to announce today that he's going to run eight now. He is going to run both the road course races in the No. 55 car as well. Brian came to MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) and made a statement, showed not only our organization what he's capable of, but the whole world. We felt like that was deserving to let him run some more races. Eight races, if I do the math properly, we're up to a quarter of the season. Keep chipping away, keep going young man and who knows, you might have them all one day."

What is RK Motors? "Just go to the website. It's an amazing car collection. They'll restore your car, fix your car up, sell your car for you -- whatever you'd like to do. RK Motors is the place to go. That's Rob's (Kauffman, team owner) passion. That's how we met, Rob Kauffman and I, who owns half the team. We met because he moved to North Carolina and started his car collection business. He's just passionate about cars. He's the coolest partner, co-owner that anyone could ever ask for because he's just like me. When I started owning the team, I didn't think anything about making money, I just wanted to have cars that I raced and owned and Rob's the same way. So, it's been a great partnership and he's probably the most important reason for our cars being parked on the proper end of the garage now because of his commitment to making sure we have the resources to go compete against Mr. Hendrick and Mr. Penske and the other people, too."

What made you decide to put Brian Vickers in the race car for the road course races when you have Mark Martin? "Mark (Martin) said he didn't want to run them. Me being the owner that I am, I quickly decided that we needed to get someone else to do it. The perfect person -- when we brought Brian (Vickers) in, and I know he appreciates this, Mark Martin has built so much momentum around the 55 car and Rodney (Childers) and all his boys. I asked Brian when he showed up to go to Bristol, 'Let's just continue that momentum. You do the same things with this group of guys that Mark has done and you're going to win races because this team is so high, they believe in what they're doing because Mark has built them up.' Then Brian shows up and the same thing happens. It was pretty much a no-brainer to say run those other two as well. Perfect match because Mark deserves a lot of credit for that team and then Brian said, 'Ok, I see what Mark's doing, I can do that.' He spent yesterday at the go-kart track in Charlotte and the white water rafting center with the team just having a fun day prior to coming to the battle this weekend. Great team building experience and great attitude that Brian has toward making this opportunity being all that it can be."

Michael Waltrip, Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
Michael Waltrip, Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

What do you think about changes to Bristol? "I commend him for the effort. People have said they don't like the racing as much and they want to see some more action and I can't wait to see what the does. It will be fun to go back there in August and watch. The racing is definitely -- the cool thing about Bristol was you just sat there and watched and you'd see one car holding up 10 and you'd be like, hit your buddy, 'Watch this,' and he would get hit and either crash or he would get out of the way. Now we just say -- you go around them. The racing is fun for me to watch, because I know how hard it is, but it's not full contact and that's what people want. I don't know how he (Bruton Smith, owner, Speedway Motorsports, Inc.) thinks he's going to do it, but it will be pretty fun to see."

What are your thoughts on the incident between Vickers and Kenseth at Martinsville last year? "I'm friends with Brian (Vickers) and I'm friends with Matt (Kenseth) and I talked to Matt and Matt said, 'It's over. It's racing. I hate it happened, but it doesn't have anything to do with when I see him next time.' And then I asked Brian to maybe be nicer to Matt and Matt to be nicer to Brian."

Vickers to drive MWR’s No. 55 in road course races in 2012

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