MARTINSVILLE, Va. — To the Vickers go the spoils.
No, Brian Vickers didn’t win at Bristol in his maiden voyage in Michael Waltrip’s No. 55 Toyota, but he ran well enough — leading 125 laps and finishing fifth — to earn a bonus from his part-time employer.
Waltrip and Vickers announced Friday at Martinsville that Vickers will compete for Michael Waltrip Racing in the road course races at Infineon Raceway (Sonoma, Calif.) in June and Watkins Glen International in August in addition to the six events already scheduled — two each at Bristol, Martinsville and New Hampshire.
The addition of those two races completes the schedule for the No. 55 Camry, which is shared by Mark Martin, Vickers and Waltrip. Martin is scheduled for 25 races but opted not to run the road courses.
The seamless way Vickers blended with the team for his run at Bristol — where MWR cars finished third, fourth and fifth — made awarding the extra races a no-brainer for Waltrip.
“Brian came to MWR and made a statement, showed not only our organization what he’s capable of, but the whole world,” Waltrip said. “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.”
Turning to Vickers, Waltrip added, “Keep chipping away. Keep going, young man, and who knows, you might have ’em all one day.”
Vickers has been job hunting ever since Red Bull Racing announced last year that the team was ceasing operations. That followed a 2010 season in which Vickers was sidelined since May to treat blood clots in his legs and lungs.
Vickers said that, at various points during the last two years, he had entertained the possibility that his career might be over.
“That conversation I’ve had with myself many times over the last couple of years, whether it was (when) I found out Red Bull was shutting down or towards the end of last year, trying to keep it going, or through the offseason talking to other teams or when I was lying in a 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.”
A well-publicized series of on-track run-ins with Matt Kenseth at Martinsville last October may have damaged Vickers’ market value, but Waltrip said that wasn’t an issue in his decision to hire Vickers. Of much greater importance was building on the foundation Martin has established with the No. 55 team.
“I asked Brian when he showed up to go to Bristol, ‘Let’s just continue that momentum; you do the same thing 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,’ ” Waltrip said.
“Then Brian shows up, and the same thing happens. It was pretty much a no-brainer to say run those other two races as well.”