Brian Vickers is back in NASCAR, but not quite as you remember him.
In a sharp contrast from the wreck-happy, hard-partying extreme image he carried for most of the last few years, Vickers appeared at Bristol on Friday morning in a generous and thankful mood. He'll drive the No. 55 Aaron's Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, taking the seat of Mark Martin this weekend and five others this season.
"Some people have called it my second chance, but it's really my third or more," he said. "When I really think about it, with how thankful I am with all the experiences that have happened in my life — racing with a couple good teams, to Red Bull winning and being in the Chase, and being in the hospital the next year and not knowing if I was ever going to race again. Then getting a second chance ride there and now getting really a third chance. Very grateful for all those chances and opportunities."
Interestingly, Vickers delved into how different sponsors demand different "images" of their drivers. Red Bull, in pushing for an "extreme" image, pushed Vickers in directions he might not have gone on his own:
"Did I sky dive when I was at Hendrick? No, because that's not what GMAC wanted," he said. "Did I sky dive at Red Bull? Absolutely. Did I swim with sharks? Yeah, because that's what they wanted. GMAC wanted me to do an appearance at a dealership. Red Bull wanted me to swim with sharks. Did I enjoy both? It was kind of part of the deal. Did I enjoy sky diving and scuba diving? Yeah, of course. Would I rather be at a test at Nashville for two days with the race team learning more about the race car? Yeah, but that's not what they wanted. They wanted to be sky diving. That was what was important to them, so it just is part of the sport."
Vickers also touched on the infamous Maxim article which painted him as a barely-in-control party hound.
"That was completely a lie," he said. "I could have sued them if I really wanted to. I chose not to because I think it was only going to drag the experience out, but I had three witnesses for that interview and every one of them would attest in court that most, if not all, of that article was completely made up ... The quotes weren't even real quotes. I think [the writer] said something at one time in the article about scotch on the rocks, and I've never drank scotch in my life ever. I have no idea where that came from. He just made it up. I think he thought it made the article sound good, so he ran with it."
He also touched on a dust-up with Matt Kenseth at Martinsville last year that added to his image as a hothead. "The people I spoke to, it wasn't a factor [in not getting a full-time ride], but maybe to some people it was," he said. "For me, that was 2011 and this is 2012."
For his part, Kenseth also expressed no lingering problems with what happened last year. "I've put it in the rear-view mirror," which is much easier to do if you've won the Daytona 500 since then.
And Vickers is at ease with his immediate future, like Sunday: "I just want to go racing," he said. "Honestly, what's the worst that can happen? I'm not going to have a job?"