As previously announced, Brian Vickers, driver of the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, is expected to miss the beginning of the 2015 Sprint Cup season as he recovers from recent heart surgery. Meanwhile, MWR will be looking for a replacement driver, if the organization hasn’t found one already.
If a replacement driver for Vickers already has been determined, Michael Waltrip Racing is keeping mum about it, for the moment. The number of races Vickers will miss as he recovers seems to be unknown, but it’s pretty certain he’ll miss at least a few, juding by the announcement from MWR regarding Vickers recent surgery.
Vickers’ latest sidelining has resulted in speculation regarding a replacement driver. Names tossed around have, primarily, included veterans like team co-owner Michael Waltrip, Mark Martin and Jeff Burton. Also mentioned has been Cole Whitt.
If you ask me, the most logical choice would be Waltrip. Chances are, he was planning on running at Daytona come February, anyway. He has a driver out, so why not go ahead and climb into that No. 55 car instead of fielding an extra car or climbing into another car through an alliance with someone else? After all, he needs to fill that No. 55 seat anyway? It would be like killing two birds with one stone, as the old saying goes.
Besides, I’m thinking Martin and Whitt would be no-goes. It wasn’t all that long ago that Martin drove part-time for MWR and he’s served as a fill-in driver elsewhere since, but Martin’s rekindled a working relationship of sorts with Roush Fenway Racing as an advisor/driver coach. Do you think Jack Roush would be okay with Martin going over to MWR for a few races? I don’t think so, after all Michael Waltrip Racing is a part of that Toyota camp that Roush referred to as “the dark side” when Kenseth defected from Roush Fenway to drive a Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing.
As for additional races, well, that all depends on whether or not Waltrip wants to temporarily go back to full-time racing. He has his obligations with FOX Sports 1, primarily on Camping World Truck Series telecasts, but there shouldn’t be a conflict there at the beginning of the season. Heck, after the first two races of the year for the Truck Series at Daytona and Atlanta Motor Speedway, which just happen to be companion races to the Sprint Cup Series, the Truck Series takes a month off before the first trip of the year to Martinsville (Va.) Speedway for another companion race to the Cup Series.
As for Whitt, he may already have a ride somewhere. I don’t know, and it doesn’t seem like anyone else does either, other than a ride, if one exists, doesn’t seem to be with BK Racing. For Whitt’s sake, I’m hoping he has an idea of where he’ll be in 2015, along with whatever team that would be. Since he notified BK Racing that he wouldn’t remain with the team in 2015, I’m guessing he does have a ride, somewhere; we just don’t know where.
If Waltrip opts not to return to full-time races, even on a temporary basis, I think Burton would be the next best option. And that would be an arrangement that would probably benefit Burton and NBC Sports. Burton, retired from driving, will walk into the NBC broadcast booth for the second half of the season. Considering the new rules package for 2015, a few races behind the wheel before NBC takes over race coverage at the halfway point, would, I would think, give Burton a unique perspective from which to start his race broadcasting career. Besides, it hasn’t been all that long since Burton’s been in a race car. He was a full-time driver at Richard Childress Racing as recently as 2013. Oh, and don’t forget, he made one start and was a test driver for MWR in 2014.
Of course, Burton may not be interest, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
I guess MWR could pluck a driver from the Xfinity/Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series ranks, but I’m thinking the best option is Waltrip, himself, or Burton, or maybe even a combination of the two.
What do you think? Take an online poll, here.