Happy, Healthy and Glad To Race in Las Vegas
KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina (Feb. 29, 2015) – Brian Vickers’ whirlwind start to the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season moves to its next chapter Sunday when he climbs behind the wheel of the No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Vickers will make his second start of 2016 in Stewart-Haas Racing’s (SHR) No. 14 Chevy replacing Tony Stewart, who is recuperating from an offseason accident. Vickers raced well in the No. 14 during Daytona Speedweeks, battling with the leaders in the final 40 laps before finishing 26th in the Daytona 500 two weekends ago. Last weekend, Ty Dillon celebrated his 24th birthday Saturday, then drove the No. 14 Chevy to a 17th-place finish Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
A timetable for Stewart’s return to racing has not been determined, but he will make a full recovery and return to the No. 14 Chevrolet in 2016. Stewart underwent surgery after sustaining a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra in an all-terrain vehicle accident Jan. 31 while vacationing on the West Coast. Stewart was in radio contact with SHR teams and drivers in Daytona and attended the Atlanta race.
When the 33-year-old Vickers straps into the Mobil 1 Chevrolet at Las Vegas, it will mark his own triumph over health concerns.
In 2015, he missed the season’s first two races as he recovered from open-heart surgery after doctors discovered his body was rejecting an artificial patch inserted in 2010 to fix a hole in his heart. He returned to action last year at Las Vegas and Phoenix, driving for Michael Waltrip Racing, but learned the following week a reoccurrence of blood clots would force him out of the car for the remainder of the year.
Throughout the last few years of his career, blood-clot-related issues have forced Vickers to give up racing and focus on healing his body, but each time he’s recovered and returned. After extensive work with physicians, Vickers says he now follows a medical regime that keeps him safe both in and out of the car.
With health concerns in the rearview mirror, he’s focused solely on racing.
This weekend at Las Vegas, he’ll drive a racecar with the Sprint Cup Series’ new low aerodynamic downforce configuration. The package is similar to the ones used at Kentucky and Darlington last year and was raced at Atlanta last Sunday. Lowering the downforce on a car makes it more difficult to drive, which puts more emphasis on driver skill and increases the potential for more passing.
Vickers was one of the drivers who tested and recommended this configuration in 2014. He’s been a proponent of the package that he said would please drivers and fans alike and would create better racing.
He’ll reunite with Mike Bugarewicz, who took over the No. 14 crew chief duties in 2016 after serving as the lead engineer for SHR’s No. 4 team since its inception in 2014. Vickers has high praise for the Penn State University graduate, saying he will be a crew chief for a long time.
Vickers, a native of Thomasville, North Carolina and resident of Miami, has enjoyed some success at the 1.5-mile track north of the Las Vegas Strip. In nine races, he owns two top-10 finishes and led a lap. The No. 14 has scored the 21st-most points in the season’s first two races.
BRIAN VICKERS, Driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Has it been a whirlwind start to the 2016 season for you, replacing Tony Stewart in the No. 14?
“Yes, it’s been a fun and crazy couple of weeks. I didn’t expect that coming but I really enjoyed it in Daytona. It was an honor to fill in for Tony and it will be an honor to fill in for him again this weekend in Las Vegas. I hate that he will be out of the car. I have been there. I know his pain.”
How is your health? Are you concerned about the hard hits like the one you endured in the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona?
“The accident in the Unlimited certainly wasn’t how we wanted to start out our Daytona Speedweeks. We had a great car and ran all the way up to the front. We cut a right-rear tire and ended up in the fence. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do when that happens. I feel great. I am in great shape. I have worked really hard with my physician over the course of the last year to figure out a plan that was safe for me to be in the car and also safe for me when I was out of the car. We feel really good about that. Hard impacts really don’t affect that at all. If they did, I probably wouldn’t be in a racecar. Although, those hard hits never feel good, I can assure you of that. But, I am safe. I am healthy. I am fine and I am having fun.”
What has it been like working with Stewart-Haas Racing?
“The communication has been great. Everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing from Tony (Stewart) and Gene (Haas) all the way down has been wonderful. Working with (crew chief) Mike (Bugarewicz) is really good. He is new to crew chiefing, but he is going to be on a pit box for a very long time. He’s a really good crew chief. He did a really good job in Daytona. There were a lot of familiar faces at SHR. Rodney Childers is a guy I worked with in the past and I’ve known since I was young. Billy Scott is another familiar face. All of that has been really good.”
What are your thoughts on running the low-downforce package in Las Vegas?
“I really pushed for this low-downforce package. I’ve tested the cars twice with this low-downforce package before I was out. I remember they moved around a lot, but other cars around you affected you less. I think that’s what the drivers really pushed for and what they like about the package. Does the car slide around a lot? Is it looser? Yes, absolutely, but that is fine. I think the drivers love that. I love that. I think it is going to be a great change for the sport and look forward to being in that car in Las Vegas.”
Are you at a disadvantage having sat out most of last season against drivers who’ve raced every race?
“No, unfortunately, I have experience with that. I have been out before for extended periods of time and got back in and felt great. One of the times after I sat out I returned at Bristol and led 125 laps and finished fifth and had a shot to win. I feel really confident getting back into a car after being out of the car for a while. Ultimately, what I think it really comes down to is just the team and working with the team and I know we have a great team. Going into Vegas with a fresh set of eyes has its benefits, but you could also argue that the more seat time and experience you have the better off you are. Historically, I’ve probably run as good or better with some time off. Maybe a week on, week off program isn’t so bad.”
Are there more races in your future?
“We are taking it week-by-week in the No. 14 just waiting for Tony to get healthy. I’ll be there as many races as they need me. I don’t know what the future has planned for me after that. I’ve made so many plans in my career that ended up not working out that I’ve kind of gotten comfortable just taking it day-by-day. We’ll see what happens. I’ve enjoyed my work at NBC Sports and I have a lot of business interests going at the moment outside of racing. I will want to race, no doubt about it. I want to show everyone I’m still the guy that can get to victory lane. But I’ve learned in life to appreciate what you have. No matter what, I will be happy.”
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