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 32-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.