Brian Vickers, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished 26th in Sunday’s 58th Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
Vickers spent the closing laps of NASCAR’s most prestigious race battling with the leaders. If the high lane had worked better in the closing laps, the results could have been spectacular.
Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz’s decision to take two tires during a caution with 44 laps remaining vaulted Vickers from midpack to fourth. After the stop Vickers stayed at the very front of the field, running side by side with the leader.
Neither he nor many other drivers could use the high lane to grab the lead on the 2.5-mile oval. But, it wasn’t because they didn’t try.
“We were just toast in the high lane at the end,” Vickers said after the race. “I was flat out the whole time. We tried like heck, but there at the end we just couldn’t stay with the guys down low and drifted back.”
Vickers was pleased with his car and the crew’s performance, but disappointed with the finish.
“These guys deserved so much better today,” he said. “They gave me a great car, and we took our shot to win the race.”
It was a long day of great racing.
The 75-plus-degree temperatures and gusty winds made for a treacherous first half of the race for the 40-driver field including Vickers. He drove from 18th to 11th by lap 15 on the slick track and repeatedly told his crew he liked his car’s handling.
Vickers narrowly avoided turn-four spins by SHR teammate Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott on lap 19. He predicted to his crew there would be more spins and accidents throughout the race because of the challenging conditions.
“This is like old school Daytona,” he said. “Handling and protecting the bottom are important, and I really like our handling right now.”
He was proven correct on lap 56, when he said Joey Logano dramatically slowed in front of him off turn four. In narrowly avoiding Logano, Vickers spun.
Fortunately, there was no major damage to the car.
“That was a close call,” Vickers said. “(Logano) hit the brakes, and I barely missed him. It wasn’t a handling issue; I just had to make a move to avoid hitting him.”
An early pit stop to change the flat-spotted tires, make adjustments and add fuel dropped him to 31st place. He stayed near the back of the pack in case of further trouble, but close enough to make a run toward the leaders. He avoided a multicar accident on lap 92 and ran in 27th at the halfway mark of the 200-lap race.
Vickers began a charge to the front and had climbed to 20th by lap 117 when a debris caution slowed the field. He restarted in 12th with 75 to go and raced in 15th with 50 to go. Vickers pitted from 16th for two tires with 44 laps remaining, rejoining the field in fourth. He held his spot before drifting back to 10th with 10 to go and 11th with five laps remaining.
It was an impressive run for a driver who only two weeks ago didn’t know he’d even race in this year’s season opening-race.
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 talked on air with the Fox broadcasters from his North Carolina home during Sunday’s race telecast. Before the green flag flew, Vickers told his team he wanted to win the trophy for Stewart.
“This week was a lot of fun and a great honor to replace Tony,” said the 33-year-old Vickers, whose own health problems related to blood clots have kept him out of racing since March.
“Everyone at SHR welcomed me to the team, and the support from Bass Pro Shops and Mobil 1 this week was fantastic,” he said. “I don’t know what the future holds, but like everyone else I hope Tony comes back soon. There’s a really good race car and team waiting for him.”
Sunday marked the debut for Bugarewicz, who took over the No. 14 crew chief duties after serving as the lead engineer for SHR’s No. 4 team since its inception in 2014.