Brian Vickers has looked like a different driver in 2012.
In the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, the then-Red Bull Racing driver finished 25th in the final point standings, notching just three top fives and seven top 10s in 36 starts.
Vickers also had multiple run-ins with fellow Sprint Cup Series competitors, including Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth, the latter of whom he took out during the Chase's penultimate race at Phoenix.
But 2012 has been a completely different story for the Thomasville, N.C. native.
Racing a limited schedule in Michael Waltrip Racing's No. 55 car, Vickers has put together two top fives in three Sprint Cup starts, including a fifth-place finish at Bristol, where he led 125 laps.
Vickers' success in his few Sprint Cup events this season has even taken the 2009 Chaser by surprise.
Vickers said of his 2012 success in Tuesday's NASCAR Media Teleconference:
I think almost any driver would tell you that in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series the competition is so intense that any weekend that you go lead the majority of the race that many laps, you're like, wow.
Vickers started the 2012 season without a Sprint Cup ride, making him the only full-time driver from NASCAR's top division in 2011 without a job for the season-opening Daytona 500.
But when the ride at MWR opened up for eight races in 2012, Vickers career was rejuvenated. And while he's looked to be a totally different driver in 2012, Vickers claims he's no different from a year ago:
In general, I'm the same driver that I have been in the past. I definitely wouldn't go so far as to say I took a magic pill or anything going through the offseason.
But while Vickers may not have undergone any drastic changes during the offseason, he does admit he has more knowledge in the bank than he ever has:
Every year that goes by you learn new things. Every time you're on the racetrack, you're learning something. If you're not, that's bad.
Quite a bit of Vickers learning has come from racing sports cars in Europe, which he has done on a few occasions this year. In fact, Vickers did go on to say that what he learned in Europe was a "net positive" in his efforts at the road course in Sonoma, where he finished a season-best fourth.
Vickers goes on:
I think as a person, you grow and evolve through life experiences, for sure. I'm not really doing anything in particular. I'm still kind of working with the team in the same way I always have and turning in the same race reports and trying to grow and get faster and build, and drive hard just like I always have. Sometimes it just clicks, and it just has this year.
But Vickers didn't take all the credit for his success in 2012:
There is never one piece of the puzzle. I'm sure everyone stepped their game up. It's not like I've made them better. It's not like they just made me better. It's a combination of all of the above.
Though Vickers has enjoyed racing part-time in 2012, the hope for him moving forward is that he finds himself in a full-time ride in 2013.
The possibilities are out there.
With the contracts of Joey Logano and Ryan Newman expiring at season's end, A.J. Allmendinger's recent suspension leaving his future cloudy and the possibility of MWR expanding to four cars in 2013, Vickers is in a good position to audition for a ride in his five remaining races.
He's not about to take those opportunities for granted:
[E]very day in life is an audition. Don't think that you're just auditioning at the end of a contract or when you don't have one, because that's not just for racing, that's for anyone and everything in life. Every decision you make every day can make a big difference.
Now you've got to keep that in mind and kind of enjoy life. But every day is an audition, and that includes every driver on the racetrack, not just me.
Vickers will get another chance to audition this Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, once again driving the No. 55 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing.
Hopefully, he can make the most of it.
All quotes were obtained from Tuesday's NASCAR Media Teleconference with Brian Vickers. For the complete transcript of the Teleconference, click here.