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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Vickers aiming to find redemption

MARTINSVILLE, Va.– Brian Vickers’ latest comeback got off to a roaring start two weeks ago with a fifth-place finish at Bristol for Michael Waltrip Racing.

The driver who admitted having wondered more than once if he was viewed as “damaged goods” hopes to keep his comeback on track when he returns this weekend to the scene of one of his worst days in racing: Martinsville Speedway.

Last fall, Vickers was involved in five cautions on the small, paperclip-shaped oval, three in the first 100 laps. He tangled with Matt Kenseth, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray, and was criticized by former teammate Jimmie Johnson afterward.

Vickers, though, has plenty of practice on the comeback trail, and bigger issues than a few ticked off competitors. He missed 25 races in 2010 while battling blood clots, and lost his ride with Red Bull Racing when it closed after last season.

“Yeah, which time did I think that?” he said about worrying if he was damaged goods. “That conversation – I have had with myself many times over the last couple of years, whether it was I found out Red Bull was shutting down or towards the end of last year trying to keep it going or through the off-season talking to other teams or when I was laying in hospital bed two years ago.”

Looking ahead, he realized, is the best way to approach his opportunity with MWR, which initially gave his six races to run this year in a shared ride with Mark Martin, and added the two road courses to Vickers’ slate after his good showing last weekend.

While the good run felt validating to Vickers, he knows he needs to keep showing what he can do to have hope of securing a full time job next season, although Waltrip seemed to hint that that opportunity could eventually be with MWR.

“Keep chipping away. Keep going, young man,” he said, “and who knows, you might have them all one day.”

Kahne wins pole

Kasey Kahne is the first two-time pole winner of the season after he posted the fastest lap in qualifying Saturday at Martinsville. Kahne, who also started first at Las Vegas, toured the 0.526-mile oval at 97.126 mph, depriving Kevin Harvick of a sweep of weekend qualifying at the track. Harvick, who won the pole for Saturday’s truck series race earlier, had a run at 97.048.

The pole is the 24th of Kahne’s career and gives him a chance to improve on his 27th-place standing in the points race.

The top five also includes Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman, followed by Vickers, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Joey Logano.

Defending series champion Tony Stewart will start 15th.