Brian Vickers, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished eighth in the second of the two Can-Am Duel qualifying races Thursday night at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. The finish means Vickers will start 18th among the 40 drivers in Sunday’s 58th running of the Daytona 500.
While it wasn’t a spectacular run, Vickers said it was exactly what his No. 14 team needed.
“We came here to win, so whenever you don’t win you are disappointed, but we learned a lot about our racecar, finished in one piece, and we have a decent starting position for the Daytona 500,” Vickers said to the media after climbing out of the No. 14. “There are a lot of guys who can’t say that tonight.”
Vickers started 22nd after single-lap qualifying Sunday set the lineup for each of the Duels. The Thomasville, North Carolina, stayed at the back of the pack in the opening laps, careful to ensure he protected his car. A few laps later, the field divided into two packs with Vickers running near the back of the second pack.
He told the crew over the team radio he was happy with the handling and just biding his time. By lap 12 he ran in 16th as the second pack joined the lead pack and all 22 cars ran nose-to-tail around the 2.5-mile oval. Then Vickers raced in 12th tucked in behind teammate Danica Patrick.
At the halfway mark, with the pack still single file, spotters and drivers of the cars racing around Vickers decided to form a second line in the low lane. At lap 32 the cars dove low in unison, but when a few pulled back up in the high lane, Vickers was stuck in the low lane without a drafting partner.
“Some of those guys didn’t do what they said, and we lost the draft, and once you do that at this place you are really in trouble,” Vickers said.
Running without the aid of a drafting partner, the No. 14 fell out of the lead pack. With no cautions and only a quick pit stop for fuel there was no opportunity for Vickers to make up the lost ground.
It appeared he’d end the race in 14th, but a six-car accident triggered by Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray battling for second on the white-flag lap brought the race to an end under caution and allowed Vickers to take the checkered flag in eighth.
“We’ll take it and work on our car tomorrow and Saturday,” Vickers said. “Everyone did a good job tonight, but we’ll be better in the Daytona 500.”
On Feb. 13, SHR named Vickers the interim driver of the No. 14 for all Speedweeks activity. He replaced 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. Stewart spoke from his North Carolina home to Vickers during Thursday’s race.
“That was strange but also pretty cool to hear Tony on the radio tonight,” Vickers said. “He can certainly help us, and it’s an advantage we plan to use.”
The No. 14 team will practice Friday and Saturday in preparation for Sunday’s race that marks Vickers’ 10th Daytona 500 appearance.
Vickers’ teammate Kurt Busch led the way for SHR Thursday by finishing third in his Can-Am Duel race. Busch’s third-place finish in the second Duel race slots him and his No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet SS eighth for the 58th Daytona 500 on Sunday.