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Vickers gets full ride with Michael Waltrip Racing

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013 11:32 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013 12:17 p.m. CST

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Brian Vickers has a full-time ride again on the Sprint Cup Series.

Michael Waltrip Racing announced Tuesday that Vickers will drive the No. 55 Aaron’s Toyota for a full Sprint Cup schedule beginning next season. Andrea Freeman, the vice president of marketing for Aaron’s Inc., says the sponsorship deal is for both the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

Vickers said he’s “ecstatic” about the decision.

“I feel like I’ve found a home here at MWR,” Vickers told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “I’m partnered with a great team. A lot of it is about chemistry. Sometimes it’s hard to find that right mesh, but when you find it, you know it.”

The 29-year-old Vickers has endured plenty of adversity the last three years.

His racing career was derailed in May 2010 when 11 races into the season doctors discovered blood clots in his legs and lungs. Two months later he underwent two procedures to close a hole in his heart and insert a stent into a vein in his left leg.

Vickers said at the time he didn’t know if he’d recover, let alone drive a stock car again.

He was medically cleared to return to racing in 2011 but his team struggled and he finished a disappointing 25th in the point standings. After the season he was dealt another blow when Red Bull pulled out of Cup racing leaving Vickers without a full-time ride.

He’s been racing part-time on the Cup Series ever since with MWR, sharing a ride with Mark Martin. He’s running a full schedule on the Nationwide Series this year for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“It’s been a while since I’ve had a ride, so this feels great,” Vickers said with a laugh.

Vickers called the last few years of his life “a rollercoaster ride,” but believes his best racing is ahead of him.

“I’m still in my 20s and have more than 10 years of experience and a lot of life lessons that I think will only contribute to more wisdom on the track and more success,” he said.

Vickers said getting a full sponsorship deal like this would have made him happy regardless, but given his health problems in recent years it makes it extra special.

He said there were times he didn’t know if anyone would ever take a chance on him again.

“Oh, of course,” Vickers said. “Between everything that has happened between the health issues and being in the hospital to Red Bull shutting down, did it come to mind? Absolutely.

“But one thing I have learned is you have to live every day one day at a time. You have to make plans for the future but you also have to live in the moment, which is a difficult balance. I’ve learned that you have to appreciate what you have. That’s where I am right now.”

It’s rare in today’s NASCAR world when a driver gets a full-time sponsorship from a company, let alone a two-year deal like Vickers received.

But Aaron’s Inc. feels like it made the right choice.

Freeman said she got to know Vickers — and his inspirational story — over the past few months and was convinced he was the right man to continue the company’s involvement in NASCAR.

“We’re really excited about the passion he brings to the sport and feel like he will be a great representative for our brand,” Freeman said.

If Aaron’s had any questions about Vickers’ ability to race — and more importantly, win — he and the No. 55 team answered those last month when he won at New Hampshire, snapping a 75-race winless streak on the Cup Series.

“I don’t know if made a difference in sealing the deal, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt,” Vickers said with a laugh.

Team owner Michael Waltrip called Vickers a perfect fit for his team.

“I love his tenacity,” Waltrip said at a press conference Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “He just fights and he digs and he’s calm. He’s not one of those guys on the radio how loses his mind over things going wrong. He just tries to help his team. His ability to work with other drivers is big, too. He just totally gets it.”

With sponsorship security at hand, Vickers is turning his attention toward new goals on the track.

“I’m thankful for Aaron’s and their sponsorship,” Vickers said. “Now we’re going to see if we can go out and win a championship or two.”

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