On Friday, Michael Waltrip Racing announced the driver schedule for its No. 55 Toyota in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for 2013. Like in 2012, the No. 55 is expected to be entered in all 36 points-paying races, along with two exhibition events — the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in February and the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May. And just like in 2012, driving duties will be shared by car owner Michael Waltrip, Brian Vickers and Mark Martin.
Martin will be behind the wheel for the bulk of the schedule — 24 points races and both exhibition events. Waltrip will drive the car in three of the four restrictor plate races — both events at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and the July race at Daytona. That leaves nine races for Vickers.
On Friday, Vickers discussed his role at MWR as a part-time driver. Here’s what he had to say:
Are you excited for this race and the announcement about next year?
“Always fun to be back in Martinsville for a lot of reasons. This will be my last race this year with MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing). This is where I ran my very first stock car race ever in the Allison Legacy Series — I have no idea what year that was, but it was awesome and I really enjoyed it. Obviously, here today to announce and speak of 2013. I know a lot of you have asked questions and I really appreciate your curiosity. For me, staying with MWR was a conscious decision to try to be in the best position to win races and be with the best team that I thought I could do that with. There’s a lot of factors that are involved in that — from the manufacturer to the team to the owner to the sponsors to the crew chief and just blatant chemistry. Obviously it’s more than just building fast race cars, which MWR does and Toyota is delivering great engines right now and a lot of support. The chemistry I have with Rodney (Childers, crew chief) is unprecedented for me in my career. I’ve never had anything like it and that’s the kind of results that I want to continue having. The obvious question is why is it not full time? Mark (Martin) is settled in pretty snug next year and to be honest with you, sometimes things work out for a reason. I look back to this year and going in to 2012, there were some opportunities to go full time, but I made the decision that I wanted to be in a car even if it was for eight races that I felt like I could win races with and a team I wanted to be with long term — it was really more of a long term decision. A short term and long term decision, and I feel like that mission was accomplished. Now, going into next year I am kind of in the same boat — there were some opportunities out there that were full time, but where do you really want to be? The question I’m asking myself is, ‘Where do you really want to be? What is your goal and how do you get there?’ My goal is to win a championship. Clearly that’s not going to happen next year with the exception of maybe an owner’s championship with Mark and Michael (Waltrip), but to win a driver’s championship and an owner’s championship you’ve got to be with a good team, you’ve got to have the chemistry and you’ve got to be with a good manufacturer — I feel like I found that with Toyota, with MWR and everyone on board, with Aaron’s, with Rodney and all the guys on the whole team. I wish I could list all of them — management and everything. Obviously, it’s going to be nine races again next year — far short of what I would like to have, but I’m as excited about those nine races as I’ve ever been excited about any race in my career. That’s what was important to me was to know that even in those nine — showing up at the race track every week I had a shot to win the race. That’s why I made the decision I made and I’m very thankful and very happy for the opportunity at MWR – Michael (Waltrip) and Rob (Kauffman, co-owner) and everyone on the team has given me this year and again next year. Honestly, I know a lot of you are like, ‘Wait, you can race full time and you chose this?’ Trust me, I’m excited about it. I made a conscious decision to do it two years in a row and I can assure you that I am enthused about it.”
Are you ‘in the wings’ for a full time ride with MWR?
“In the wings, yes. I don’t think I can be any closer to the wing. Being in the car this year and being in the car next year and running well — there’s no contractual obligation to 2014, but that’s my goal and that’s their goal. That’s what we’re working towards. Right now we’ve got a couple things on our task list — run good. We’ve got nine races next year — three are with Aaron’s and six are unsold. We have to sell those six races and part of that is going to be performing. Then in 2014 we have to sell all of them. That’s what we need to do to make that happen. Obviously, just run good.”
Do you have any other prospects for next year?
“Right now my focus is on those nine (races), but obviously part of fielding those six races if someone steps up to the plate and wants to do 15 or 20 — I’m sure Michael (Waltrip, co-owner) and Rob (Kauffman, co-owner) are not going to tell them no. We’ll figure out a way to make it happen. Our focus is those nine races and trying to win an owner’s championship for the 55 car next year with Mark Martin and Michael. I don’t want to speak on behalf of the team, but obviously if a sponsor says, ‘I really want 15, nope, you can only have six.’ I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”
Do you want to try to stay with Toyota as a manufacturer?
“I really found a home at Toyota and I want to stay there — that’s kind of where my focus is. Now, if there was another opportunity at another Toyota team then I wouldn’t rule that out. I definitely wouldn’t rule that possibility out. I want to be in the car as much as possible. I think this year was a prime example of that. I wasn’t always in this garage, but I was in a car a lot. I’ve probably been behind the wheel of a car this year as much as I have in my career. Half of it’s been in Europe and half of it has been here in America. I’ve had a lot of fun doing it. I haven’t run full time this year, but actually I have run full time, just not in the same series. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me because I’ve had a blast. I feel like I’ve been very blessed to race all over the world at some of the most amazing tracks in history and still come home to NASCAR and perform.”
Are you guaranteed a position when Mark Martin retires?
“Good luck with that. There is no guarantees with Mark (Martin) — I don’t think he’ll ever retire. My focus is that I am really happy with the team that I’m at with MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) and Toyota. There are three good cars there. I don’t know what Mark’s plans are. My job is not to get Mark out of the car. My job is just to get in a car. Nothing would make me happier than to continue to have Mark Martin as a teammate in some form, fashion or another. His experience and his generosity as a mentor this year has been tremendous for me and I feel like long term for my career and I can’t thank Mark enough for that. He’s really the glue that’s kind of built this team. I’m trying to learn from that experience. He’s only going to make the team better next year. What role Mark has at MWR after that — that’s between Mark and those guys. There’s plenty of room. It’s not a full house yet.”
Could you possibly do some racing for Joe Gibbs Racing?
“As far as JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing), I’m exploring all opportunities to race as much as I can next year and as soon as what those opportunities start to shape up with, what they look like, I’m sure you guys will be the first to know.”
Are you looking to run any other races to fill in the weeks you do not run with MWR?
“Absolutely. Basically, I have a list of wants and then I have a list of done. And, right now the done is nine races at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) — three with Aaron’s and six we’ve got to figure out, we’ve got to sell them. Then, there’s the wants. Let’s see — pretty much anything else that races fast. Sports cars are welcome. Indy cars are welcome. Europe, America, Nationwide, you name it I’m open-minded to anything. I want to race. Ideally, my number one criteria is to be in a winning car and wherever and whatever it is, that’s my goal. Right now, I know I’ve got nine races with MWR and I’m really excited about them.”
Would you prefer to run part time with a team like Michael Waltrip Racing compared to a lower level team?
“I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to come along this year and I took a chance by running part time with a great team as opposed to full time and maybe not running quite as well and I feel like it’s paid off. I’d love to be in this situation I’m in now full time next year, but I’m also very thankful to be in it at all — to even have the opportunity at all and very thankful for those nine races. And, I feel like those nine races, if we can have the success we had this year maybe plus a little bit more. We were very pleased this year, but not satisfied. Obviously, we’d love to have sat on a pole. We’d love to have won a race and we’ve got one more chance to do it. I think that performance is going to pay off big dividends in the long run.”
How has running NASCAR helped you race in other series?
“I feel like it’s actually worked out both ways. I think that my racing experience as a whole throughout my career, particularly NASCAR experiences, helped out a lot in sports cars and other racing. And, I think some of the things that I’ve learned overseas and in the sports cars field has helped out here. Obviously, the first thing you’d point to is the road courses, but I think it’s more than just that. It’s just all of those little things that you pick up along the way racing with other drivers, racing other series, racing in so many different cars. And then the reverse is true. Racing big, heavy stock cars with no traction control and a tremendous amount of torque and horsepower I think helps in those cars. Almost always, I run less traction control than any of my peers in those cars and I get more power out of the engine for doing it because I’ve never had traction control. So, for me, it’s like even on one of the 12-click setting, a one is still like amazing and more than I would normally need or want. So, yeah, there is definitely things that have helped me over there that I’ve learned from racing in this series.”
Did you have any full-time offers to race in the Sprint Cup Series?
“I did. I had some other opportunities and I’m very thankful to have been presented with those, but I just felt like this is where I wanted to be. I’ve looked for a home for a long time in NASCAR and I felt like I found it.”
What are your impressions of the 2013 Camry?
“I’ve done two tests now with the 2013 car at two very different places. Obviously, the first test was at Talladega. I felt the Talladega test went really well kind of out of the box. I figured we were going to have to make more adjustments and changes. We tried a few things and NASCAR has not settled in on a design. I think the body — in theory and principle most of it is kind of set, but they are still playing around with a lot of the aerodynamics of the car and the spoiler and just so many things. So, I also want to be cautious not to say too much about it because it’s not done yet. It’s like walking into an art studio in the middle of a painting, like halfway through a painting and start judging it. It’s not done. I will tell you that the test we did at Talladega I thought went really well. The car drafted really well, raced really well and even with seven cars on the race track we put on one heck of a show. At least I thought so. It solved a lot of the things that I think the fans critiqued about the current racing at those tracks. And, then we went to Kansas, and I thought that test went well from the standpoint of we started off not where we wanted to be. It was tough in traffic and the car was really loose in, but I applaud NASCAR and all of the teams for getting together and trying to — ‘Okay, how can we solve this? How can we make this car the most race-able car that we’ve ever had?’ By the end of a two-day test we accomplished it. I was racing around all of the guys in traffic. I was racing the 2012 cars, I felt comfortable, I felt better behind them. All in all I thought it was a gain. And, understand too, multiply that by the fact that a lot of the design of the cars with the intent of maybe making some changes to the tires to again just multiply and multiply that effect to make the racing better and better and better. We’re still racing on 2012 tires or tires built for the 2012 car and not for the 2013 car so I think it’s going to get better. Not so much that the starting product was perfect, but that there’s a lot of really good people working on making it better and NASCAR has been very open-minded to that and an integral part of that process.”
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