Racing for Wins With Brian Vickers, Driver of the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota

Rob TiongsonSenior Analyst IApril 7, 2010

Brian Vickers is arguably one of the finest competitors in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Circuit, racing to the front on any given race day in his prominent No. 83 Red Bull Toyota Camry.

Having worked his way up the stock car ladder, competing in the NASCAR Weekly Racing series, USAR, and Nationwide ranks, this 26-year old driver has established himself as a true threat for victories and the Chase for the Championship.

Coming off a career season in the Cup division last year, Vickers and his Red Bull Racing Team, led by crew chief Ryan Pemberton, won a dramatic race at Michigan last August, which was part of a summer momentum run that included 10 consecutive top-12 finishes.

Some of his other highlights during that segment were seventh-place results at Daytona, Chicagoland, Atlanta, and Richmond, sixth at Pocono in July, and a fifth-place performance at the Brickyard.

Those strong performances during the heat of the NASCAR season propelled this third-year team into the Chase, in which they placed 12th in the final standings.

While momentum trickled down the stretch, the lessons learned from the final 10 races have certainly given added fuel and fire for the No. 83 Red Bull team. Certainly, the 2010 season has this team ready to step it up to the next level.

A hard-charger who's cunning, calculative, and precise behind-the-wheel, Vickers goes out there with this particular mindset: "I'll race you as you'll race me."

Diligent and focused, the '03 Nationwide champion and two-time Cup race winner gives it his all, learning which lanes are faster for the Toyota, as well as holding his own on the track during those last lap battles, willing to trade some paint when it all matters.

There's no let up from this Thomasville, N.C. native, who's determined to make more trips to Victory Lane, as well as hoisting that prestigious Cup championship in Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.

So far, those opportunities are looking good in 2010, as he's climbed up to 12th in the standings heading into the seventh race of the season.

Even with the stellar campaign last year, Vickers knows there's even more to be realized for his team, which has truly emerged as one of the elites in a Cup series dominated by the likes of Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, and Joe Gibbs Racing.

In a series dominated by the Goliaths, he's still certain that the Red Bull Racing Team can get it done with all the right resources at his disposal for a true run at the title.

This week, I interviewed Vickers, who's preparing for this Saturday night's Subway Fresh Fit 600K at Phoenix International Raceway. He's the cool customer as you see on the track, appreciative of his success and the people who've helped him along the way.

A true racer to every degree, you can also tell that he's an astute fan, as you'll see when I asked him about competing on a limited basis in the Nationwide Series.

It's suit up and go time with Brian Vickers, who'll talk about his racing career and life, all right here for B/R Nation!

Sit back, relax, and get to know this successful young gun, who's certainly got Victory Lane and a Cup championship on his mind.

 

Rob Tiongson :  Making the Chase last year had to be a tremendous and interesting experience for you and the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota team.  Knowing how competitive NASCAR Sprint Cup racing is, what did you and the team do differently to not only make the Chase field, but with becoming a solid contender for wins on a weekly basis?

Brian Vickers : It was a combination of everything. We had better cars and people. We had momentum and some good luck. All of these are things you need to survive in this sport.

Did some of it run out in the Chase? Possibly, but the good part about it all is that we do know what we are capable of and what we can do if all the things fall into the right place. After three years and starting from nothing more than a tool box, Red Bull has come a long way.

RT :  You’ve been racing NASCAR for the past eight years, with a few seasons in the Nationwide ranks before “turning pro” with the Cup series.  Did you ever dream of achieving so much in the amount of time you’ve had in these stock cars?

BV : Dream is the key word. It’s everyone’s dream from a young age to make a living doing what they love. I love racing. I grew up around it. I had a family who was involved in it. I was pushed to do well in school and was allowed to do things I loved to do, number one being race.

So did I dream about it? Yes, like any kid who plays any sport or idolizes someone dreams of getting to that level. I was just lucky to get to where I am.

RT :  Compared to most of the racers in the Sprint Cup, your motor sports career started relatively late at age 11 with go karts.  With some years in the World Karting Association, the Allison Legacy Series, and NASCAR Weekly Racing division, you worked your way up to the USAR Pro Cup.  Was the transition from each division seamless or was it a matter of learning these machines as fast as you could?

BV : I was allowed to progress as I needed. Nothing was ever forced. When it was time to move to the next level, we did. There was no reason to push the limits too soon. I think one of the greatest factors in all of it was risk.

There is a bit more danger with a 12- or 13-year old kid running a go-kart than a full bodied car. There was an accident or two in go-karts that pretty much lead all of us to look to the next level, but we had won a bunch of races and championships before that time. So again, nothing was forced but definitely all thought through.

RT :  Competing in 36 points races through 10 months is definitely a grind both physically and mentally for anyone involved in this sport, including drivers like you.  How do you keep focused with the task at hand?  Is it a matter of taking it one race at a time or do you look ahead at the next few circuits?

BV : You know ahead of time about the tracks that are your strengths and the tracks that are your weaknesses. In the past, those have been some of the smaller short tracks, but we have focused as a team and really pushed ourselves to get better. And it worked.

Bristol and Martinsville were two tracks going in we knew it was going to be tough, but now we have better data and thoughts and ideas for next time. It’s still a growing process.

RT :  Having raced with both Hendrick Motorsports and your current organization with Team Red Bull Racing, what are the similarities and differences with these multi-car teams?  Do you truly feel like a leader with TRB and how much have you grown as a driver over these past eight years?

BV : Hendrick is a powerhouse team. Rick has built a tremendous organization. It was a privilege to race there and I still consider Rick a very good friend. It’s a huge organization.

Ours at Red Bull is smaller, but that’s the way it was designed and again, we only have two teams, where they have four. I wouldn’t say a leader, but it has been fun to be part of something that has really developed by leaps and bounds over the past three years.

RT :  Camaraderie is such a vital aspect to have with not only your team, but your peers in the garage area during a grueling season.  Who are some of the people you’ve turned to for advice at the track and your friends when there’s that brief moment of respite?

BV : Jeff, Jimmie and Casey are the closest to me. Rick Hendrick is still a very close person in my life. Dr. Jack, who I met at Hendrick, is always there if I have a question or need advice, as well my parents.

RT :  You’ve scored two memorable victories thus far in your Cup career, your first at Talladega in Oct. of 2006 and last August at Michigan.  How much of a thrill was it to cross the stripe, taking that checkered flag ahead of the field, knowing you and your team have beaten the best in the sport?

BV : There is just no better feeling. Winning is such an accomplishment in this sport with the amount of competitive teams there are. As teams grow, they are going to get stronger and the competition should hopefully get better, but then again time will tell.

RT :  For some, they are embraced immediately during their first moments in NASCAR while others are initiated into the sport in a unique manner.  What would have to be your “Welcome to NASCAR” moment where you felt truly accepted as one of the boys in the series?

BV : Like the question above, it’s the time you cross the finish line first. That was in 2003 at O’Reilly Raceway Park.

RT :  No matter how hard drivers try to avoid it, controversy is sure to find them in some form or fashion during or after a race.  You and Kyle Busch raced competitively for the win in the NNS race, but he felt slighted about letting someone “who didn’t deserve to win” take the checkers.

In your mind, would you still race him the same way? As you said, you’re there going for the win.

BV : You race to win, end of story. The end of that race was crazy. We all came through that final lap slipping and sliding. If you get beat, you get beat. I don’t know if you can classify anyone as not deserving to win if in fact they beat you.

RT:   Free Association time, Brian.  Tell me the first thing that comes to your mind with the following:

Wins.

BV : Trophy.

RT : Patience.

BV : Success.

RT : Family.

BV : Love.

RT : Red flag.

BV: Uh-oh.

RT : Rivalries.

BV : Kyle.

RT : Respect.

BV : Parents.

RT : A real racer’s track.

BV : Darlington.

RT : Fans.

BV : Great.

RT : Books. 

BV : Enjoyment.

RT : Humility.

BV: Important to success.

RT : Tell me why having Cup drivers competing in the Nationwide cars isn’t a bad thing for the sport.  Does it help to have some of the stars of the top series race with the regulars who compete for that series’ title?

BV : For me, I race in the Nationwide Series for fun. I do it because I love to race. I get to pick the tracks where I am going to have the most fun running with Trent Owens and Braun Racing. It’s great that they give me that ability.

Having the Cup guys sells some tickets of course. It brings some more eyes to the race. It also pushes the Nationwide regulars to run harder and also creates a story when they do win. Look at Justin Allgaier at Bristol. It was great for him. It was great for the series as the next up and coming driver continues to prove himself.

RT :  You’re still young, in great shape, and have the potential to do amazing things for the rest of your driving career.  What are some of your goals down the road in the next five years?  Do you see yourself always being a NASCAR racer?

BV : The bottom line is I want to win races and win a championship. That’s the goal for the near future. What I don’t want to do is just “fade out.” I want to know that I accomplished my goals in racing and be proud of the job I have done.

I do have other enjoyments in my life, and some of those may be part of life after racing, but until that time, and until I feel I have done all I can, they are second to this career.

I will always have some form of racing in my life. What that is, who knows? Again, there is a lot left to do and I am thrilled to be given this chance to do it.

RT :  For any young racer in America or around the world who looks up to you, what advice would you give them in their pursuit to make it to a series like NASCAR? 

BV : I say this all the time, but you can’t ever give up. If you give up, you’ve been beaten by yourself.

At the same time, have realistic goals. Do well in school. At this day in age, it’s very tough out there to get rides and sponsors. Being educated is a big part of it all. If I didn’t do well in school, I wasn’t allowed to race.