Tuesday, May 17

Vickers Looking forward to Darlington Return

As the 2010 SHOWTIME Southern 500 dawned on Darlington Raceway, Brian Vickers had at least two reasons to be particularly happy.

He was at Darlington, a track that all NASCAR drivers respect but one that Vickers considers his favorite.

And his race car was fast.

All in all, though, it seemed to be a pretty normal race weekend for the driver of the No. 83 Red Bull Racing Toyota.

“There was really nothing significant or special about it,” Vickers says.

Yet there was one little matter that he couldn’t quite explain.

All week leading up to the SHOWTIME Southern 500, Vickers had experienced an unusual tingling sensation in his left fingers. Upon arriving at Darlington and throughout the race weekend, the feeling persisted.

But Vickers thought little of it. He was there to race.

“I wasn’t really sure what it was,” Vickers says. “But it was just kind of tingling and going numb some. It would come and go. Sometimes it was there, sometimes it wasn’t. But at the time I didn’t think anything about it. I should have, but I didn’t.”

The feeling clearly wasn’t enough to slow Vickers down.

He qualified third and finished 10th after leading nine laps.

With his best career finish at the track “Too Tough To Tame” under his belt, Vickers had something to build on for the next weekend’s Sprint Cup event at Dover International Speedway.

But instead of going to Dover, Vickers would up in a Washington, D.C. emergency room – just four days removed from his superb Darlington showing – after complaining of chest pains.

A series of tests showed that Vickers hadblood clots in his leg and lungs. A third clot developed in hisfinger, and doctors believed it moved through a hole in his heart.

He would miss the rest of the 2010 seasonwhile taking prescription blood thinners, undergoing two procedures to close the hole in his heart and having a stent inserted into his left leg.

Vickers was formally diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis in his left leg. Thrombosis is caused by a blood clot, and the condition led to pulmonary embolisms in both of Vickers’ lungs, blocking blood vessels. That produced the chest pains that sent Vickers to the hospital.

"It was difficult,” Vickers, 27, says of his time away from the seat. “Obviously, you spend your whole life preparing to do something and you're there and you're doing it and then all of the sudden it's taken away — especially at such a young age. Emotionally it was difficult at times, but in the moment and in the heat of the battle, my focus was just on dealing with the issue and then as some time went by and I had some time to think about it is when emotionally it probably hit me the hardest. Realizing what was going down.

“That being said, I believe things happen for a reason. I've learned a lot from this experience and 100 percent believe that it happened for a reason and I feel like I came out better for it.”

Vickers hoped to return for the 2011 season but didn’t know what his NASCAR future held until receiving medical clearance to race again.

He wondered if Darlington would end up being his final race – and odd twist of irony, to be certain, given his passion for the fabled track.

“While everything was going on, there was definitely the thought that occurred to me,” Vickers says. “I obviously didn’t think about it at the same when I was at the race track (for the SHOWTIME Southern 500)because there was no way of knowing what was going to happen, but throughout the year it definitely occurred to me. Obviously I didn’t want it to be my last race but I guess it wouldn’t have been a bad one if it did turn out that way, because I do love that race track.”

The 2010 SHOWTIME Southern 500, of course, wasn’t Vickers’ last race.

He made his official return in the 2011 Daytona 500 and has competed business as usual ever since with his Red BullRacing team. But Vickers is looking especially forward to getting back to Darlington for the SHOWTIME Southern 500 on May 7.

He’s always been a huge fan of the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval, despite achieving modest success at the track. In eight Sprint Cup Series starts at the “Lady in Black,” Vickers’ lone top 10 was his 10th-place finish last May.

He’s fared considerably better at Darlington in the Nationwide Series, winning in fall 2003 and collecting four top 10s in eight starts. While the track “Too Tough To Tame” invokes fear in some drivers, there’s no place that Vickers enjoys more.

“Historically when the pavement was old and wore out, it was a good track for me,” he says. “I think it reminded me a lot of the tracks I grew up racing on dirt and different things. I always likedthat feel that you had to have there and that you were looking for, but since they paved it, I still like the way you have to race the race track. You run right against the wall. It’s very unique and challenging from a driver’s perspective compared to a lot of places we go, and that’s always suited my driving style.

“In my opinion it’s one of the most challenging race tracks we go to. It’s extremely unique, obviously, and that’s just something I’ve always enjoyed. You either love Darlington or you hate it, and I’ve always loved it.”

Vickers doesn’t know exactly how he’ll feel when he rolls into the Darlington garage area for the first time since his medical scare. Reflecting on last year’s race – and the events that transpired in the days and weeks that followed – could make the 2011 SHOWTIME Southern 500 extra meaningful for Vickers.

But it could be just another weekend at his favorite track.

“It will definitely be interesting and special to get back to Darlington, but I haven’t really thought about it until you asked me,” he says. “I guess I’ll tell you when I get there.”

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