Brian Vickers, driver of the No. 14 Janssen Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished 13th in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
Vickers battled back from two laps down in the early going to post the No. 14’s best finish of the 2016 season.
“It was a hard-fought race,” said the Thomasville, North Carolina native. “This was a really special weekend. With everything we are doing with Janssen to promote blood clot awareness, and this being the track where I had to miss the race last year because of blood clots, the start was emotional. We got down early after we hit the wall, but nobody gave up, and we came home with a good finish. I really wanted to finish better, but we were just off a little bit at the end. This team gets better each week, and I see a lot of progress.”
Vickers, who started 24th, said his car was tight in the corners in the early going but was getting better each lap. He climbed into the top-20 by lap nine, but then he reported right-side contact with the wall. Vickers assessment that the car’s bodywork was rubbing against the tire proved correct on lap 24, when the right-rear tire came apart. Vickers lost two laps making a green-flag pit stop for tires and repairs, then returned to the race in 39th. Two laps later a caution enabled Vickers to take the wave-around, and he restarted the race only down a lap.
Vickers’ car remained fast despite the wall incident, and he earned the free pass to return to the lead lap when a Kyle Larson accident on lap 47 on the backstretch brought out the caution. Vickers began rocketing toward the front of the field after returning to the lead lap, climbing to 16th by lap 85 when he pitted during a round of green-flag stops. At the halfway mark of the 200-lap race, Vickers raced in 17th, driving hard but also preserving his tires.
Ten drivers scraped the wall in the first half of the race, several pitted early because of tire issues, and only 28 of the 39 cars remained on the lead lap when the field returned to green-flag racing with 85 to go. Danica Patrick’s accident with 79 laps remaining slowed the field again before Vickers restarted the race in 16th with 70 to go. He used the restart to pass several cars and move to 11th – his highest running position of the race.
Vickers raced in 10th when the race restarted with 42 laps remaining. Those problems the field experienced in the first half of the race seemed like a distant memory as the race ran without incident until two laps to go, when a caution sent the race into overtime. Vickers had drifted back to 15th but moved back to 11th before the overtime started. The two-lap finale saw side-by-side racing, with Vickers crossing the line in 13th.
Vickers and Ty Dillon have served as substitute drivers in 2016 for Tony Stewart, who sustained a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra in a Jan. 31 all-terrain vehicle accident. There is no timetable for Stewart’s return to racing. However, a full recovery is expected for the three-time Sprint Cup champion, as is his return to the No. 14 Chevrolet this season.
Sunday was Vickers’ third start in the No. 14 this year. He finished 26th in the Daytona 500 on Feb. 21, and mechanical issues left him with a 36th-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 6. Ty Dillon finished 17th at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Feb. 28 and 15th at Phoenix International Raceway on March 13.
Sunday marked the third consecutive year at Auto Club Speedway that Vickers and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., partnered to educate race fans about the serious risk for blood clots. Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation continues golf legend Arnold Palmer’s legacy of philanthropy and invests in organizations that help children, youth, families, the environment and communities. Vickers and Palmer met while working together with Janssen to share their personal experiences with blood clots. Janssen has chronicled their stories, and fans can view them at www.TreatMyClot.com.