Brian Vickers Is Done for the Year: Is Casey Mears Best for the Job?

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer IMay 21, 2010

CONCORD, NC - MAY 21:  Brian Vickers, driver of the #83 Red Bull Toyota, speaks to the media during a press conference at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 21, 2010 in Concord, North Carolina. Vickers will miss the remainder of the NASCAR season because of blood clots in his lungs.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jason Smith/Getty Images

Casey Mears has become NASCAR’s super sub.

Before the Autism Speaks 400 presented by Hershey’s Milk and Milkshakes at Dover, Sprint Cup Series driver Brian Vickers was diagnosed with blood clots in his veins. The diagnosis caused the Red Bull Racing driver of the No. 83 to step out of the car at Dover, and again this weekend at Charlotte, for the Sprint All-Star race.

Vickers announced Friday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway that he was done driving for the 2010 season.

“To answer the question why I’m here today: I am here today to answer everything, I’m not going to hold anything back from you, we’re not going to speculate, but tell you exactly what’s going on,” Vickers started by saying.

“Most of you guys have always been good to me and I’m here to be honest with you and to be frank with you, where I’m at, where I stand, and what I’m going through,” he continued.

Then he said the words that no race car driver wants to say, “The announcement that I have to make right now … due to what happened and due to the blood thinners that I’m on, I will be out of the car for a minimum of six months. The rest of the year.”

As Vickers recovers, Mears has been called upon again and will be behind the wheel unless the team decides otherwise at the road course races.

After befriending and working with him during their times at Hendrick Motorsports, it was easy for Vickers to choose who he wanted in his car. It’s the second time in as many weeks that Mears has been called by a team that needed assistance.

After Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin had knee surgery in April, Mears sat atop his pit box at both Phoenix and Texas in case Hamlin needed to get out of the car. He never did. In fact Hamlin won the race at Texas, while Mears sat around and watched. Just keep in mind, though, that Mears was the driver they called upon.

Now he’s in the same spot with Red Bull Racing and it has many shaking their heads.

“When all this went down, there was a couple reasons I thought of Casey,” Vickers said. “First and foremost, I’ve raced with Casey for a long time. I have a lot of respect for his abilities, his talent. I think race car drivers know other drivers better than anyone else, we race with them week in and week out and we know their abilities, their talents, their tendencies, and my focus was the race team.”

Since his debut in the Cup Series, Mears has driven for very good teams. First came what was then Chip Ganassi Racing, who put decent equipment underneath him but his best points finish (14th) came in his fourth and final year with the team.

He never won a race. 

For the 2007-2008 season, Mears was with HMS, considered to be the best team in the series, where he won his first and only career race to date, in a fuel mileage Coca-Cola 600. He finished 15th in points that year and 20th in 2008 before leaving for yet another team.

Time to give Richard Childress Racing a try.

Mears took over the No. 07 from Clint Bowyer and kept Bowyer's team members, but it was to no use. They didn’t get to victory lane and finished 21st in points before lack of sponsorship forced the team to close down. It left Mears without a ride until the upstart Key Motorsports came along and required his services. However, most of the time it was services of starting and parking.

Now he’s back behind the wheel of a car that made the 2009 Chase, won at Michigan a year ago, and has been a weekly contender. During a practice session at Dover last weekend, the broadcasters stated that for Mears, “he’s basically auditioning.”

A good way of putting it and leading to this: should Mears be in the 83 car? How many auditions does he get? He’s taken his opportunities with Ganassi, Hendrick, and Childress and hasn’t set the world on fire. Any driver would have jumped at the bit to be in that position.

Mears has, yet Red Bull Racing isn’t trying to get another driver that might be available to help keep a Chase contending car up near the front. Mears finished 22nd last weekend in Dover, the range of finishes that the team is most likely going to see if he stays behind the wheel.

In the press conference, Vickers said, “Red Bull has done a lot for me and I want to make sure this team has the best opportunity they can to succeed, without me being in the car… so I thought of Casey… and he’s a friend of mine.”

If Vickers really wanted the team to succeed and run where he’s capable of putting them, wouldn’t he have put that friendship aside and looked toward many other drivers that may either be without a ride, or would be better suited to get his car up front?

Think of veteran drivers like Bobby Labonte, who, even though he’s under contract with TRG Motorsports, was a start-and-park last weekend. A former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion was only good enough to park it?

Contracts have been broken over and over in this sport and if the TRG team has to continue pulling behind the wall, Labonte would be better suited in a car that could win races.

What about Johnny Benson or Dennis Setzer?

They used to be full-time drivers in the Camping World Truck Series that saw those go up in smoke when the economy hit their race teams and sponsorships. Experience is hard to come by in any sport and these two certainly have it. The same could be said for another former CWTS driver in Ted Musgrave.

Or the team could have gone a different way. Reed Sorenson doesn’t have a full-time Cup ride anymore and would be crazy not to want to drive the 83 car. He’s a young driver like Vickers who is going to be in the sport for awhile. Give him the chance to show what he has in decent equipment.

There seems to be many different paths and more drivers that Jay Frye and the Red Bull Racing operation could have taken after realizing that Vickers was going to be finished for the year. Everything is in place to contend for wins each weekend, if not take a wild shot at trying to make the Chase with a replacement driver, but it’s almost like they're hurting themselves by making this decision.

Of course, everything that Casey Mears has done the seven years he’s been in the sport may have been leading him to this point and he’ll prove everyone wrong by driving the No. 83 Red Bull car.