Brian Vickers, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished 24th in the Sprint Unlimited non-points NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Saturday night at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
Vickers started 18th in the 25-car field after a random draw determined the starting lineup Friday afternoon. The Thomasville, North Carolina, native started quickly as he battled two- and three-wide on the 2.5-mile oval to climb into the top-10. Slight contact with competitors on lap three and again on lap six slowed Vickers’ progress, forcing him to the back of the lead pack.
Vickers remained on the track during a lap-12 caution, then resumed his charge to the front when the green flag flew. He used the middle of the three lanes to move as high as fourth. Just when it looked like Vickers could battle for the lead, a cut right-rear tire on lap 22 sent the No. 14 machine hard into the wall, collecting several cars and ending Vickers’ night.
“It wasn’t anyone’s fault,” Vickers said. “We cut a tire probably from the earlier contact or something. When a right-rear goes at those speeds on this track, there isn’t much anyone can do. I was really happy with the car. The guys, everyone at Stewart-Haas, did a great job.”
Vickers showed little or no rust after an 11-month absence from competition because of health issues.
“Man, I was having so much fun out there,” Vickers said. “It was so good to be back. None of those guys were taking it easy on me, but this race and this track are just fantastic. We learned so much tonight that we can apply to Thursday’s qualifying race and then Sunday’s Daytona 500.”
On Friday, SHR named Vickers the interim driver of the No. 14 for all Speedweeks activity. He replaces Tony Stewart, who sustained a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra in an all-terrain vehicle accident Jan. 31 while vacationing on the West Coast.
“I can’t tell you how thankful I am to Mobil 1 and Stewart-Haas Racing for giving me this opportunity,” Vickers said. “Nobody could ever take Tony’s place, but I’m thrilled I had the chance tonight. I hope there are a lot of good things to come this week. We will just go get them for the Daytona 500.”
The No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevy earned entry into the exhibition race because Stewart is a previous winner of the Sprint Unlimited (2001, 2002 and 2007). Only 2015 pole winners, drivers who were a part of the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, previous pole winners for the Daytona 500 and past winners of the Sprint Unlimited earned entry into the race.