Sprint Cup Qualifying 1 P.M. SUNDAY (WJZY)

Brian Vickers set to complete comeback

jutter@charlotteobserver.comFebruary 15, 2014 

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Brian Vickers, right, speaks with a crew member during practice for the Daytona 500 on Saturday in Daytona Beach, Fla. Vickers is beginning his first full Sprint Cup season since 2011, after blood clots and heart surgery kept him out of commission.

ROBERT LABERGE — GETTY

— Point forward and go.

Brian Vickers doesn’t know any other way.

It’s not a revolutionary approach by any means, but considering what Vickers has been through over the past four seasons, it’s doubtful anyone would blame him for veering off track.

Yet when cars take to the high banks of Daytona International Speedway Sunday to begin the qualifying process for the Feb. 23 Daytona 500, Vickers will be among them.

It will mark the start of what he hopes is his first full Sprint Cup season since 2011 and the chance of continuing his dream of one day becoming series champion.

“You want to learn from the past,” said Vickers, who will drive the No. 55 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing. “But I don’t want to dwell on the past.”

It’s difficult not to.

Vickers, who won the Nationwide Series championship with Hendrick Motorsports in 2003, helped usher in Toyota and Red Bull Racing’s debut in NASCAR’s Cup series in 2007 – a difficult process all on its own for a new manufacturer.

A third of the way through the 2010 season, Vickers was forced out of his seat for the remainder of the year after developing blood clots and having heart surgery to help address the issue.

“I did everything I possibly could to find out and learn as much as I possibly could about the clots, what causes them, why I had them, what I can do to prevent it, what I can do next time and I worked with a lot of doctors on it,” he said.

“The reality of it is, they really felt it was a fluke accident. I went through all the genetic testing – I didn’t have anything that was known to produce spontaneous clots. But, there’s always the unknown, right?”

Vickers returned to racing in 2011 but at the end of the year, Red Bull Racing closed its doors and he was left without a fulltime Cup series ride.

He put together a partial Cup schedule in 2012 with MWR, in which he had five top-10 finishes in eight starts – a difficult accomplishment for a part-time team.

Last season, he again entered the year with a partial Cup schedule with MWR and added a fulltime Nationwide ride with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Vickers ended a 75-race series winless streak in the Cup series with a dramatic victory July 14 at New Hampshire and cemented an opportunity to return to a fulltime ride in the series in 2014.

But last October, Vickers was again forced out of the car when he diagnosed with a blood clot in his right calf.

“I had a boot on for a month, immobilized my right ankle and calf and that’s what produced the clot. Now, it’s the same thing. I went through the same routine again,” he said.

“I went to all the best doctors and said why, where and what happened. Here’s what happened. Okay, what’s next? Three months of anticoagulation, blood thinners and then after that you can get off and you can go drive.”

A familiar explanation. A familiar prospect of a full recovery.

Having heard it all before, would Vickers be so secure in yet another successful outcome?

“I’m a race car driver. I’ve skydived into Daytona. Clearly, I’m a risk-taker. My evaluation of what is risky and what is not is probably skewed differently more than most. But I certainly wouldn’t say I am reckless,” he said.

“I still try to think through things. I still chase down the best safety equipment I could possibly have in my race car. To a certain extent, you can’t be afraid of everything, every day.

“You can’t be thinking about that, whether it’s losing a sponsor or whether it’s crashing, you just have to look out the front windshield and go.”

But does that mean a similar situation couldn’t happen once again?

“Not at all,” Vickers said. “Anything is possible. The reality is it can happen to anyone. Life’s fragile and that’s why I try to enjoy every breath, every moment, every day.

“Why take the time to worry about the stuff that probably won’t get you, knowing the thing that does, you probably can’t even imagine?”

Utter: (704) 358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter

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