Brian Vickers/Aaron’s Dream Machine Daytona Preview

Every racer is optimistic going to the Daytona 500, but forgive Brian Vickers if he’s a little more reflective on this year’s season-opener than most of the drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. This year’s “Great American Race” means so much, in so many different ways, to the 30-year-old Vickers:

It marks his return after missing the final four races of the 2013 season when medicine to combat a blood clot in his leg kept him out of action.

The 2014 season is also his first since 2011 with a full time ride—a ride that Aaron’s will sponsor in every race. Vickers along with MWR teammate Clint Bowyer, who drives the No. 15 5-hour ENERGY Toyota, expect to figure in the championship battle. Veterans Jeff Burton and Michael Waltrip will share partial season driving and testing duties in MWR’s No. 66 Toyota also aiding Vickers and Bowyer.

Make no mistake, Vickers’ sentimentality will last until the engines fire in Florida. Then he’ll focus on winning NASCAR’s most prestigious race and a title.

DAYTONA: “It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Daytona in a Sprint Cup car. — I guess it’s been since 2011. To get back down there is going to be special. That race track has always been special to all race car drivers. The first time you go there it is amazing. I’m curious to see if it feels the same this year — that excitement and energy and that love as it did the first time I went to Daytona. You’ll have to ask me when I get there. I have a feeling it will. I think being gone for so long and going through so much since the last time I was there, it’s going to have a similar kind of feel to it for me and that’s a great feeling.”

2014 GOALS: “We want to win races and win a championship. Really, not to make it sound too simple, because it’s certainly not simple. We want to go out and try to win multiple races, we want to try to sit on poles and we want to try to win a championship and I think the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine team can do that. I think we have a great group of guys. Most of it is the same group of guys. Billy (Scott, crew chief) is going to be leading the team, which I’m really excited about. He’s been the engineer on that team now for some time and I think he’s ready to step up to that role and be the leader and we can go out there and do it.”

RACING: “I’ve missed being in a race car for the past three months, for sure. I’ve also enjoyed having some time off. It’s been fantastic being able to spend some time with my wife and going on a honeymoon in January, which was great, which we didn’t think we would ever get to do. The clots presented a big problem, but also a little bit of an opportunity to take some time off, which was nice. I’m ready to go.'”