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 this weekend at 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 the team closed down 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 toward the end of last year trying to keep it going, or through the offseason talking to other teams, or when I was laying in a hospital bed two years ago.”

Looking ahead, he realized, is the best way to approach his opportunity with MWR, which initially gave him six races to run this year in a shared ride with Mark Martin, then 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.

“It’s part of any pro sport. It’s what have you done for me lately? What are your results lately? And these eight races are very important to me,” he said. “Obviously, when you only have eight shots at it, you better make them count.”

That the second one comes on NASCAR’s oldest, shortest oval is intriguing, to say the least.

In the fall race last year, Kenseth was still second in the championship chase when he and Vickers tangled. Vickers wrecked Kenseth, taking him out of title contention. He also likely cost Johnson a chance at winning the race.

Kenseth said he brings no grudge into today’s race.

“I think if you’re sitting there worrying about that stuff and thinking about it, you’re certainly not giving your best effort to try and get the best finish that you can, so I think that’s all water under the bridge and you move forward from there,” he said.

Johnson, too, is rooting for Vickers to keep his resurgence going.

“When I look back at what he’s been through over the last three or four years, the first issue he had was a medical issue. And I know how difficult it was for him to not be in the car due to medical reasons,” the five-time series champion said.

“I know he’s trying to do everything he can to position himself as a top pick and work his way back into a great team and do his job. He’s been through a rough few years and hopefully things get stable for him on the racing side of things.”

Kasey Kahne is the first two-time pole winner of the season after he posted the fastest lap in qualifying at Martinsville Speedway.

Kahne toured the 0.526-mile oval at 97.126 mph, edging Kevin Harvick. The top five also includes Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman.


TRUCKS: Pole-sitter Kevin Harvick led all but two laps and won the spring race at Martinsville for the third time in four years.

Harvick left no doubt which truck was best in leading a series-record 248 laps.

His teammate, Ty Dillon, ran second almost all day but had to hold off James Buescher on a restart with six laps to go. He followed Harvick to a comfortable second-place finish.


INDYCAR: Helio Castroneves continued a strong start by capturing the pole at the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama in Birmingham.

Castroneves turned in a fast lap of 1:10.4768 after opening the season with a win at St. Petersburg, Fla.

James Hinchcliffe earned his best career start at second with a lap of 1:10.5222, followed by Scott Dixon (1:10.5291) and Mike Conway (1:10.6791).