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At the start of last season, Brian Ickler was one of the hottest young drivers in NASCAR.
He was racing NASCAR trucks as Kyle Busch’s stand-in when Roush Fenway Racing offered him a long-term contract as a development driver.
The future seemed bright for the Poway driver, who went south with his own stock car in 2008 to run NASCAR’s Camping World East Series. Against NASCAR’s top young drivers, Ickler won three races and two poles and topped all drivers in laps led.
“At the start of 2010, it looked like I was on a fast track,” said Ickler. “Now I’m on hold.”
Driving recently for Busch in a Camping World Trucks race at Texas, Ickler finished fourth. But that was his first race in almost nine months.
Certainly, Ickler hasn’t gotten slower at the age of 25. And he remains as personable and upbeat as ever.
What has happened?
Ickler is one of the many victims of the economy. Sponsorship money has dried up in NASCAR. Such veteran drivers as Todd Bodine, Mike Skinner and Ron Hornaday Jr. have been scrambling from race to race to find funding.
Jack Roush was planning to have Ickler run his fourth car on the Nationwide Series this season. But there is no fourth car. Roush’s second car has only a half sponsorship and the third car is running unsponsored.
Even Kyle Busch has had problems finding a sponsor for a truck that runs in front of the pack each week.
“Kyle jokes with me about my predicament,” Ickler said this week from Mooresville, N.C., where he works in Busch’s shop and waits for the next call to drive.
“I’ve been doing a lot of testing for Roush,” said Ickler. “I was fourth fastest in a recent session while testing Carl Edwards (Sprint Cup) car. Everyone tells me they like what I do. There are just very few opportunities right now.
“Fields are being filled with guys who are their own sponsors. Down the road, it will get sorted out. I’ll stay in the game. But it is a humbling sport.”
Ickler has also spent part of this season spotting from the top of the grandstands for Kyle Busch when he is racing trucks.
“I’ve learned a ton this season,” said Ickler. “But nothing beats seat time.”
Ickler has been told there could be more opportunities coming his way over the second half of the season. And the former SCORE off-road champion has received feelers from several top teams looking for TrophyTruck drivers in November’s Baja 1000.
“Next year does look good,” said Ickler, who remains close with Busch and is actually contracted to Roush for another 11 years.
“Jack told me he’d let me out of the contract if something better came along,” said Ickler. “I’d love for it to happen with the arrangements I have now. I’m concerned and I’m not. There’s a fine line. I understand what has happened this year.