Brian Vickers is looking forward to his 20th birthday, an occasion he plans to celebrate on track at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Vickers will turn 20 on Friday, Oct. 24, the day he will try to qualify for his second NASCAR Winston Cup race.
"There are not enough words in the English language to describe all the feelings I¿ve gone through and the excitement and everything else," Vickers said. "The opportunity that (team owner) Rick Hendrick has offered me is tremendous. This is a dream come true for me."
Less than 18 months ago, Vickers was a senior at Trinity High School in Trinity, N.C. He often bummed a morning ride to school with Justin and Kristen Labonte, whose dad, former NASCAR Winston Cup champion Terry Labonte, sometimes drove the trio.
He admits he though it was "kind of cool" to have former Winston Cup Champion Terry Labonte take him to class.
These days, Vickers and Labonte are teammates at Hendrick Motorsports, which also fields cars for Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
"It¿s funny how things have worked out. Two years ago if I would have seen a guy like Jeff Gordon, I would have asked for his autograph," said Vickers. "Now I can call him up and ask him for advice and he¿ll help me out any way he can."
Vickers will attempt to qualify the No.25 UAW-Delphi Chevrolet for the Oct. 26 Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 Winston Cup race. It will be a busy weekend for Vickers, who will also be trying to gain ground in his quest for the Busch Series championship in his No. 5 GMAC Chevrolet.
Vickers joined the Hendrick Motorsports stable this season and quickly established himself as a contender in the Busch Series, winning three races. He¿s right in the thick of one of the tightest points battles in history, just 36 points behind leader David Green.
"I¿d be lying if I said I wasn¿t thinking about the points championship," Vickers said. "I still go to the track every week with the goal of winning, but you have to choose your battles carefully, knowing one wrong move or bad finish at this point could make it very tough to overcome at the end of the year."
This maturity, paired with the natural talent and driving skill Vickers has packaged under his red hair and freckles, prompted Hendrick Motorsports to quickly promote the youngster to the Nextel Cup Series.
Vickers started his first race at Lowe¿s Motor Speedway last weekend, starting 20th and finishing 33rd in the No. 60 Hass Automation Chevrolet. He will take over the No. 25 ride vacated by Joe Nemechek beginning next weekend in Atlanta.
Vickers, who was born in 1983, will be the youngest ever full-time competitor in the series next season, besting 2000 rookie Casey Atwood by almost two months.
"My life has changed pretty quickly this year, there have been a lot of changes for me this year," Vickers said. "But I really haven¿t changed. I don¿t feel like I¿m the ¿next big thing,¿ I am still the guy who wants to go out and drive fast and win races and championships."
Vickers¿ chance at the 2003 Busch Series championship could hinge on the Aaron¿s 312, one of the final races of the season. Which is fine with Vickers, who says he loves Atlanta.
"I feel real comfortable and confident on a super-fast mile-and-half track like Atlanta," Vickers said. "Running off into the corner wide open at a track like that is such an adrenaline rush. Those are fun."
Vickers led his first Busch Series laps during last year¿s Aaron¿s 312 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He was the fastest in practice, pacing the 43 competitors with a best lap speed of 184.033 mph. It was also the first time Vickers¿ name had topped a Busch Series practice stat sheet.
Despite a spin and a fuel gamble that left him with an empty tank during the cool down laps, Vickers coasted to a 12th place finish.
"I adapted really well to Atlanta, so I wish that wreck wouldn¿t have happened," Vickers said. "I really wanted to run after those guys. We were really good and I feel like we can definitely contend for the win with our Hendrick Chevrolet this year."
The Busch Series rolls into Atlanta for the Oct. 25 Aaron¿s 312, just one of the exciting races during the Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 weekend. Three-day ticket packages start at just $69 and can be purchased by calling the Atlanta Motor Speedway ticket office at (770) 946-4211.