About the only thing Brian Vickers regrets about his wild race at Martinsville Speedway Sunday is that his retaliation against Matt Kenseth didn’t cause more damage to Kenseth’s car and his championship hopes.
Vickers is not all that concerned that his retaliation against Kenseth impacted the finish of the race. He just wishes Kenseth had not already been running 30th when he chose to take him out.
Beyond that, Vickers believes that four of the five incidents he was involved in weren’t his fault. He left Martinsville frustrated but happy that he drove his heavily damaged car to eighth place before his initial wreck with Kenseth on lap 458 of the Tums Fast Relief 500.
The accident sent Vickers and his damaged car to pit road for seven laps, while Kenseth pitted and came out 12th, setting up Kenseth’s next accident with Kyle Busch as Kenseth tried to drive through the field. With Kenseth about 20 laps down in 30th, Vickers drove into him and eventually spun himself with seven laps left in the race, bringing out the final, race-determining caution flag.
“The last incident, if I could do that over again, I probably wouldn’t – not because I don’t plan on wrecking him but just because he was already damaged and it didn’t serve much purpose,” Vickers said in a phone interview Monday. “We had nothing to lose. We were already out of the race anyway seven laps down. It probably was unnecessary.
“It was retaliation, obviously, and probably not well-timed. I plan for saving it for a time when it’s going to hurt. Right after he wrecked me, he wrecked the 18 [of Busch], caused a big pileup and took himself out of the race. So I probably should have saved it for a time when it hurt him more.”
Vickers took the most criticism following the race for the timing of his retaliation against Kenseth, which set up a three-lap shootout for the win. Jimmie Johnson, who is friends with Vickers, was leading at the time but was passed by Tony Stewart on the restart for the victory.
Johnson was not pleased with Vickers.
“I certainly understand that if you're unfairly wrecked, regardless of who that person is, there's a chance retaliation is going to happen,” Johnson said. “After a fourth, fifth time with the same car in the crash, you start thinking about maybe you're the problem.
“Something is going on. You're having a bad day. You need to stop crashing for whatever reason. … I don't agree with the way things were handled at the end.”
Vickers said he and Johnson talked Monday by phone, and he said Johnson saw replays on the Martinsville video board and thought Vickers was involved in all three cautions near the end of the race instead of two. He had not heard Vickers’ version of the events.
“I feel bad about what happened and he felt bad about what he said,” Vickers said. “At the end of the day, it’s all heat, it’s all emotion. … I understand his frustration as far as the last one. He had the race won – he had the race won, he was driving away.
“But I didn’t know that. I don’t ask my spotter who’s leading and where they’re at and check in and see what my competitors are doing before I handle my race.”
Kenseth admitted after the race that he wrecked Vickers intentionally with 42 laps left in the race.
“Brian, he just kept hitting me in the door,” Kenseth said. “I mean, we’re at Martinsville and I gave him the bottom. Obviously, I’m not gonna roll over and let him go with 40 to go or whatever it was and he just kept driving in harder and harder and he slammed me in the door at least five times and just ran me up in the marbles and I was just tired of it, so I spun him out.
“I don’t know why you can’t pass somebody here without running into him every single time when he gives you the bottom and the fastest lane, but obviously he couldn’t.”
That’s not the way Vickers saw it.
“I was racing him clean, got inside of him and didn’t even bump him,” he said. “I got inside of him and he just hung on my door for like five laps. We touched wheels a couple of times, but I would consider it extraordinarily minimal for a race track like Martinsville.
“Any time you hang on someone’s door and you turn down on top of them, yeah, you’re going to touch wheels. I passed him clean, I got by him, I didn’t move him, I didn’t hit him, I didn’t wreck and he just flat dumped us going into [Turn] 3 – just wide-open, never lifted, just wrecked us. I don’t know what that was about. It was a fatal error on his part.”
Vickers seemed genuinely flabbergasted over the actions of Kenseth, who entered the race 14 points out of the championship hunt and finished it 36 points behind series leader Carl Edwards.
“I don’t really know what he was thinking,” Vickers said. “Clearly, he wasn’t. For a guy that’s racing for a championship in the Chase, to flat wreck someone like that for no justified reason, especially wreck someone that has nothing to lose was a pretty dumb mistake.
“There’s three races left and he’s not going to win the championship.”
The start and the finish of the race were rough on Vickers, an innocent victim of a lap-8 accident caused when Dale Earnhardt Jr. hit the curb and ran into Kurt Busch. In the next 40 laps, he was involved in two more cautions.
By lap 95, he was involved in his fourth incident of the day, this time with Jamie McMurray, who said he felt that Vickers wrecked him with a cheap shot – by letting off the brake early and sending him for a ride. McMurray tried to retaliate but couldn’t control his car enough to do more damage to Vickers.
“I like Jamie – I didn’t mean to wreck him,” Vickers said. “But he blocked me for, like, four laps. … I got underneath him probably three or four times and he ran me all the way down to the marbles and down to the curb and the last time he ran me down to the curb, he ran me just a little too far and I got on the curb and got loose and he ended up getting taken out.
“That wasn’t my intention, but I definitely don’t feel bad about it. He kind of put himself in that position. Had he just let me pass him or at least let me race him instead of running me down to the marbles, then he probably wouldn’t have gotten taken out.”
Vickers said he didn’t think his performance at Martinsville would impact his attempt to find a new ride for 2012. Red Bull Racing is in the process of looking for investors and likely will shut down after the season if no one buys the team.
Vickers has 33 DNFs in 252 career Cup starts. He said while he has made his fair share of mistakes, he is not known for causing accidents. The race Sunday was the first he did not finish because of an accident in his last 35 starts.
Vickers said he was proud of his team for rallying throughout the race.
“This week, it’s easy to throw the blame on me for some of this stuff because of the last wreck,” Vickers said. “But the reality is when you look at the facts, the first four weren’t my [fault]. … The fact of the matter is, what most owners are going to look at is we took a torn-up race car and drove all the way to seventh before I was wrecked by Matt Kenseth, which is more impressive than anything.”
Vickers could have used the top-10 finish. He has only seven top-10s this year and sits 25th in the standings.
“The whole day was just a mess and 90 percent of it wasn’t our fault,” Vickers said. “The last one was my fault, and I will take responsibility for it. … [The day] spoke a lot about of how our year has gone – just a rough year, a rough race [where] we just couldn’t seem to get a break.”