BRISTOL, Tenn. — Brian Vickers will race for the first time this season at Bristol Motor Speedway, and believes he's got nothing to lose and nothing to prove.
"I just want to go racing. Honestly, what's the worst that can happen? I'm not going to have a job?" Vickers said Friday at Bristol. "For me, it's just go out there and have fun and just enjoy the experience. I've been through this a couple times now where I don't know if I'm going to race again."
Vickers is without a full-time job this season, his ninth in NASCAR's elite Sprint Cup Series. His ride went away when Red Bull Racing closed its doors at the end of last season. Vickers had been unable to put together a deal until last week, when Michael Waltrip Racing tabbed him to drive six races beginning Sunday at Bristol.
Vickers sat out the first three races of the season, and did not report to Daytona at the beginning of February for the first time in 10 years.
"I know how short life can be. I can't even imagine what it's like to not be at the race track, and not be able to come here and work," said Dale Earnhardt Jr. "You can't imagine what that is like until you are in that position like he was. Kind of difficult for me to understand where he is coming from. I can imagine it is not a great place."
But there are some who believe his position is self-inflicted, and that his rough close to last season — he was involved in several accidents at Martinsville, and intentionally wrecked Matt Kenseth at Phoenix — have hurt his ability to find a job. But if others consider this weekend a second chance, or an opportunity for Vickers to show he's still a good driver, he's doesn't necessarily agree.
After missing 25 races in 2010 while battling blood clots, Vickers has perspective on sitting out.
"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."
Still, people remember that race last October at Martinsville, where Vickers was involved in five cautions, including the final one. Kenseth had gone into the race ranked second in the championship standings, but was intentionally wrecked by Vickers in the closing laps.
The caution it caused also took away the chance for friend Jimmie Johnson to beat Tony Stewart.
Two weeks later, he wrecked Kenseth again at Phoenix.
"I am pretty sure he'd like to put Martinsville behind him," said former teammate Jeff Gordon. "I don't think that was the brightest part of his racing career, but he has a lot of other great moments to back it up. I think now he has another shot at it, and he's humbled and appreciative of the opportunity."
Vickers wasn't interested in theorizing on how those races have potentially hurt him.
"I don't know. I guess it's really a better question for (other drivers)," he said. "That didn't seem to be, the people I spoke to, it wasn't a factor, but maybe to some people it was. For me, that was 2011 and this is 2012."
And 2012 has so far been a year of Vickers trying to sell himself to potential sponsors.
He's not been in this position since the start of his NASCAR career, when he drove for his father, Clyde, in the Nationwide Series. Making races back then was dependent on securing funding, and life became a whole lot easier in 2003 when he was hired by Hendrick Motorsports. He won three races and the Nationwide title that season, and was in a deep-pocketed Cup ride the next year.
Vickers fled Hendrick, though, after three seasons for what seemed like the chance of a lifetime: Red Bull wanted Vickers to be the centerpiece of its 2007 entry into NASCAR and he jumped at the opportunity to become part of the energy drink brand.
Now, as he tries to sell himself to new companies, he's not sure if those five bold years of skydiving and swimming with sharks while promoting Red Bull hurt his image.
"Red Bull really pushed it, and it was what they wanted. I guarantee if you ask any driver in this garage, 'Have they ever done something they didn't want to do for a sponsor because it's what they wanted?' Of course," he said.
Perhaps most damaging was an article in Maxim magazine leading into the 2011 Daytona 500, his first race back since the blood clots in his leg and lungs sidelined him and eventually led to surgery to close a hole in his heart.
The racy Maxim profile portrayed Vickers as a hard-partying playboy with a voracious appetite for life in the fast lane, and tabbed him the "greatest driver never to win a Sprint Cup championship." The tone of the piece raised eyebrows about Vickers bravado.
On Friday, he called the article "completely a lie."
"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," he said. "Some of it was exaggerated. Most of it was just blatant lies. The quotes weren't even real quotes."
What's done is done, though, and Vickers wants only to focus on the future. He's also scheduled to drive at both Martinsville races, both New Hampshire races and the August race at Bristol as the fill-in for Mark Martin in the No. 55 Toyota.
"My personal focus is focusing on going to get money," he said. "The Red Bull lifestyle is not one that is always appealing to other sponsors. It was enjoyable at times for me, but there was a lot of things and the way they presented the drivers that was maybe less appealing to corporate sponsors.
"Overcoming that a little bit, and I had to start over again or reinvent myself from a sponsorship standpoint. I've been working hard on that for the last three months."