Top candidates to fill in for Brian Vickers


On Monday Michael Waltrip Racing announced that the driver of the #55 Aaron’s Toyota, Brian Vickers will miss an undisclosed number of races to start the 2015 season, due to health issues  stemming from a blood clotting condition that sidelined him for portions of the 2010 and 2013 seasons.

Once he’s medically cleared to resume driving duties sometime in 2015, Vickers faces another uphill battle, as he will attempt to complete a third comeback in five years.

As it stands, there’s no set timetable for when Vickers will return to active competition, but here’s a list of potential candidates that MWR should actively explore to fill the void until Vickers returns.

Michael Waltrip

This one is an absolute no brainer since Waltrip is one of the principal owners of Michael Waltrip Racing.  In recent years, Michael has settled comfortably into his role as an analyst for Fox Sports, limiting his driving duties to competing in the four restrictor plate races ran each year.  Certainly, it should come as no surprise if Waltrip decides to pursue his third Daytona 500 victory behind the wheel of the Aaron’s Dream Machine; however, beyond perhaps running the Daytona 500 in the #55 car, Waltrip is likely to remain committed to his role as an analyst, leaving the remainder of the driving duties to another qualified driver.

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Believed to be in the final stages of negotiating a deal that would see him compete full time in the Xfinity series for Roush Fenway Racing next season, Darrell Wallace Jr. would be an extremely popular candidate to fill in for Vickers on the cup side.

Wallace Jr. would bring a youthful exuberance to a team in great need of a morale boost in the absence of Vickers. The only drawback to a Wallace/MWR union is the fact that Bubba has never competed in the Sprint Cup Series race and has limited experience outside the Camping World Truck Series. Would Waltrip be willing to give this phenomenal young driver a taste of some Sprint Cup Series action? Another factor that could play a role in the potential hiring of Darrell Wallace Jr. is his desire to compete at a high level with a quality full-time ride.

Driving for MWR on a part-time basis in addition to competing full time in the Xfinity Series surely would open the door for Wallace Jr. to jumpstart his career following a successful 2014 Camping World truck series campaign.

Brett Moffitt

Another logical choice to play the role of super sub in Brian Vickers’ absence is MWR development driver Brett Moffitt.

Moffitt competed in seven Sprint Cup races last season for Jay Robinson as part of working relationship with MWR.  Although he has a few Sprint Cup starts under his belt, Moffitt struggled badly, finishing no higher than 22nd in seven Cup Series starts. The silver lining for Waltrip & Co. is that Moffitt would have the luxury of driving a car that finished well inside the top 20 in points last season. Should Waltrip give his development driver a chance to take over the reins of the #55 car in Vickers’ absence, it would provide MWR with a chance to gauge if indeed Moffitt is the future of MWR or just another driver that had tremendous potential to become a major superstar that turned out to be a flop.

Landon Cassill

In the last couple of years, NASCAR has seen a steady influx of exciting young drivers dramatically burst onto the scene, establishing measures of success far beyond their years.

Unfortunately for some of the sports young guns, a lack of sponsorship dollars pooled with overcrowded driver lineups often forces team owners to make tough decisions in regard to the future of their young talent, often leaving these once budding stars on the outside looking in when it comes finding quality rides in the future.

At one point in time, Hedrick Motorsports had high hopes that Cassill would become a future champion with their organization. As we know, those elevated expectations never would come to fruition, simply because Hendrick had no room for him to hone his craft.

Since his tenure with Hedrick Motorsports ended, Cassill’s career has been marred by a string of uneventful seasons driving for lower tier teams in the Sprint Cup Series.  Perhaps it would be in MWR’s best interest to give Cassill that second chance he’s been hoping for.  Hiring Cassill wouldn’t necessarily be the worst idea, considering he showed some flashes of brilliance driving for Joe Falk’s team last season. This would be the first time we’d see what Cassill could do driving for a top tier team. Regardless of how he would perform, Cassill wouldn’t likely be apart of MWR’s long term future once Brian Vickers returns to the cockpit. But there’s no reason why he couldn’t use his limited time with MWR as an audition for future employment.

Regan Smith

Regan Smith is no stranger to playing the role of sub in the Sprint Cup Series. Since losing his full time ride with Furniture Row Racing in 2012, Smith has waited patiently for his chance to return to NASCAR’s top touring series.

Smith has been called on to sub for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart over the past two years in an effort to attract potential employers in the Sprint Cup series. Since leaving the Cup Series, Smith has enjoyed success in the Xfinity Series driving for JR Motorsports, winning three races and finishing no lower than third in the drivers’ standings over the past two seasons. Smith will once again compete for the Xfinity Series championship in 2015 with JR Motorsports, but his long term goal is to earn another opportunity to compete on a full-time basis with a quality organization on the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour. Subbing for Vickers could open up a window of opportunity for the former Southern 500 winner to revive his career much like Vickers did in the #55 car a few short years ago.

Chase Elliott

The idea of Chase Elliott competing for another organization other than Hendrick Motorsports in the Sprint Cup series might seem absurd on the surface, but there is a distinct possibility of this notion becoming a reality.

The 2014 Xfinity Series champion has been deemed Sprint Cup Series ready by team owner Rick Hendrick, and the organization has plans for Chase to see action in the Cup Series at some point in 2015.  Hendrick’s four drivers are locked into their current contracts for the foreseeable future, leaving the team to face a problematic situation when it comes to the future home of their latest prodigy. Elliott could benefit immensely from driving for an organization looking for positives heading into the 2015 season. If Hendrick decides to grant MWR permission to acquire the services of Elliott for a short period of time, it could go a long way in developing his skills behind the wheel of a Cup car before embarking on his rookie campaign with Hendrick Motorsports in 2016.  A major obstacle that could disrupt this pairing from becoming a reality is Elliott’s involvement with sponsor Napa Auto Parts. It would be hard to imagine Napa enabling Hendrick to conduct any such deal with MWR, considering the circumstances associated with Napa’s parting of the ways with MWR in 2013.

Jeff Burton

Before heading to the broadcast booth for NBC in the summer of 2015, Jeff Burton is another candidate MWR should highly consider to pilot the #55 car.

Burton is a worthy candidate, considering her never officially announced his retirement from driving and he competed in two races for MWR last season. You get the feeling Burton has one last good run in him before focusing his attention on his broadcast journalism career. If Burton is the man MWR should call on, he would eclipse the 700 mark in NASCAR Sprint Cup career starts, putting him ahead of Buddy Baker and Rusty Wallace.
Regardless of who MWR summons to drive the #55 car while Vickers recuperates from his most recent health issues, the organization has enough resources to elevate someone’s career to the next level or assist in providing a veteran driver with one memorable ride off into the sunset.

Above all, hopefully Brian Vickers gets healthy and one day gets a chance to compete for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

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