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Long journey for Vickers leads to fresh start

February 08, 2014, Holly Cain,

After making the most of his medical leave, Vickers is excited to get back behind the wheel

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- When Michael Waltrip hired Brian Vickers to drive his team's flagship No. 55 Aaron's Toyota for the 2014 season, he did so knowing that Vickers brings proven talent in the car and high marketability out of it.

But Vickers brings a significant something else too -- great motivation driven by unique perspective.

After missing the last three months of the 2013 season recovering from a blood clot in his leg -- the second time in three years that major health issues sidelined him for a substantial duration -- the 30-year-old Vickers is at last set to have a complete run at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in a competitive car at full health.

"It's been a journey," Vickers conceded. "A lot of ups and downs and trials and tribulations but I look back at it and I'm thankful for it. I learned so much going through these past two experiences as a person, as an individual and as a race car driver and it makes you appreciate so much."

After being on a three-month regimen of blood thinners to fight the blood clot found in his right leg, Vickers was cleared last week by his doctors to compete this season.

Doctors discovered the clot in his calf last October -- a complication Vickers says occurred from a boot/ankle brace he wore for an injury.

In 2010, Vickers was out of competition for six months. After initially checking himself into a hospital with chest pains, doctors found multiple blood clots in his left leg, lungs and left hand. He also had surgery for a small hole in his heart.

Even after all that, Vickers smiled when asked if he worries about the situation arising again.

"From a medical standpoint, doctors are really happy," Vickers said, stressing that common sense and awareness will be the biggest factors in anticipating future issues. "Be mindful of what the signs and symptoms are and that's really all you can do. When you take long flights, you stand up and walk around and that's not just for me, everybody should do that. When I’m in the race car there's really not a lot you can do. My last incident was a provoked incident. I had to wear a boot and ankle brace for a week. … and in those situations I’ll be more mindful, more careful, try to get in front of it.

"Other than that, I just live my life and go racing."

Being able to do both full-throttle is something Vickers says he no longer takes for granted.

Vickers got married in Jackson Hole, Wyo., last September and used the doctor-ordered time shortly after to travel the world with his new bride, Sarah. They couple spent much of their time in Southeast Asia -- places like Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand -- where Vickers found a recurring theme in his life.

 "Our honeymoon trip really makes you appreciate how good you’ve got it as an American,’" Vickers explained. "And going through these (health) experiences makes me appreciate how amazing it is I get to be a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. Anything in life, you do it long enough and you take it for granted that’s human nature, it becomes routine.

"Then all of a sudden it’s ripped away from you and that’s not routine, you realize that’s cool and I want to get back.

"It’s been tough, but when I look back at the whole experience, I’m thankful for it. There were moments when I wasn’t sure if there would be a next of anything. And then once that was behind us, I was glad to be back in a Sprint Cup car and… fight through all that.

"Michael [Waltrip] and [team co-owner] Rob [Kauffman] taking a chance on me and taking a chance on me again, really their support and commitment is why I’m here. I’m excited to being in a stable situation, being in the car week in and week out and focusing on the championship."

This will be only the second full-season Cup effort for Vickers since 2009. He finished 25th in points in 2011 driving for Red Bull Racing and made 25 starts in the last two years while the 2003 NASCAR Nationwide Series champ pursued a second title in that series.

Top among those sporadic Cup starts was an emotional and popular victory at New Hampshire last July driving Waltrip’s third entry -- a trophy Vickers believes “sure didn’t hurt” his cause to return to Cup full-time.

The fresh start for Vickers extends to his team. He’ll be paired with new crew chief Billy Scott, formerly the lead engineer on the car. And Vickers didn’t hesitate reeling off goals and expectations.

"Not to make it sound too simple, because it’s not, but we want to win multiple races, sit on poles and try to win the championship and I think we can do that," Vickers said with a grin.

"We’ve got some testing come up before Daytona to knock the rust off so to speak. It’s hard to argue you’d be as sharp after being out for three months as you would be having tested for three months. But when you’ve been doing something for 20 years -- and 12 years in NASCAR -- you don’t forget things either. It’s like riding a bike.

"The break’s been nice, but I’m ready to get back out there and race for the championship."


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