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Catching up with Brian Vickers: Health is good, hopes to race again

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With his health issues well in check, Brian Vickers still has the passion and desire to drive a race car, particularly in NASCAR.

And at 33 years old, he still has a good number of years ahead of him behind the wheel.

He just needs a quality ride.

And that has proven to be the tricky part.

Vickers was last in a NASCAR Cup car in 2016, when he filled in five races for Tony Stewart, who was recovering from an off-season incident while driving a sand dune buggy.

But there have been no rides since.

“A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think and appreciate what the sport did for me,” Vickers said. “I do miss it.”

In a way, Vickers has kind of moved on, keeping busy with other activities, including being back on NBCSN’s NASCAR America as an analyst for several shows last week.

He’s also joined an investment group, with plans of taking a medical device company public in the next couple of months.

But more than anything, Vickers wants back on a racetrack.

“First question people ask is, ‘Do you miss it (racing)?’” Vickers told NBC Sports. “Absolutely, of course. I don’t think that’s ever going to change. If I go back and run five more years, I’m still going to miss it. And if I never race again, I’m always going to miss it.

“I’ve talked to some guys that have been retired before me. They may be retired 10 years after a 20-some year career, and they still miss it. Once it’s in your blood, that never changes.

“The question for me now is here’s the position you’re in. What do you do with your life? I don’t know if I have all the perfect, clear answers. I’ve just been following where the opportunities lie and follow what my heart and gut tell me as far as my racing career and everything else I’ve been doing.”

During his five-race stint for Stewart, Vickers showed he still has it, including a seventh-place finish at Martinsville and 13th at Fontana.

He’s had several opportunities to return to NASCAR since, but they just haven’t been a good fit.

“I stay in touch with all the owners, people in the industry, agents and all my relationships to find out what’s going on in the sport and where,” he said. “There just hasn’t been a situation that’s made sense for me. At this place in my life and career, would I love to be in a winning car? Absolutely.

“Do I want to get into a situation or car where I’m going to the racetrack and don’t feel like I can win when I show up? No.

“There’s opportunities with really good cars that have been presented to me but it was contingent on sponsorship or manufacturer, various things, and that’s been out of my control to a certain extent.

“But if something good comes along tomorrow, I’m in.”

One thing Vickers wants to make very clear is the health problems – including blood clots and heart issues – he’s endured over the years are all fully under control.

“My health is good,” he said. “I found a way to race safely and not have to worry about blood clots. Nothing has really changed from that end.”

Vickers keeps his phone close in case an opportunity arises that would put him back in a top-level ride.

“I’ve got my NASCAR gold Cup license, have done all my medical and drug tests and everything I’ve had to do to get your license, impact tests, head tests, medical clearance, you name it,” Vickers said. “I could come back and race next weekend if someone wants.”

But Vickers is also a realist. He knows there are team owners that are reluctant to hire him because of his past health issues.

“I get it, for a car owner or sponsor it’s a hard sell, they’re worried that I’ll have another health issue like in the past,” Vickers said. “I feel I proved last year in the 14 car that that’s not a concern, I’m clear, I can race safely without blood clots.

“My doctor worked really, really hard to find a perfect regimen to keep me safe from clots and has allowed me to race. That hasn’t changed.”

Vickers would prefer to race again in NASCAR, but is open to anything on four wheels, including sports cars, endurance racing and even IndyCar.

“I’m open for all of it,” Vickers said. “I really enjoyed the (World Endurance Championship) series, racing the 24 Hours of LeMans, racing in Europe, racing all over the world and in the U.S. If that opportunity presented itself, I’d be all over it.”

But Vickers has also come to grips that his racing future may never be.

“I’m basically saying to myself that I’m comfortable with the fact I may never race again,” he said. “It’s not a question of desire, want or health, it’s just a matter of finding the right situation.

“To have 15 years of experience and I’m only 33, I’ve learned and grown a lot as a person and learned more than you can ever learn going through the trials and tribulations I have. I had to overcome adversity and all these attributes going through the near-death experience that I had.

“There’s no question in my mind that I’m the best driver today than I’ve ever been in my entire career, even though I’ve been out of the car for a year.”

Vickers’ last NASCAR Cup win came at New Hampshire in 2013. He believes he still has more wins in him; he just needs a strong team to give him a chance.

Vickers and wife Sarah have lived in the Miami area for more than a decade. When his racing days are over, he’s considering one opportunity that may be surprising.

“Politics has always intrigued me,” Vickers said. “I love the subject, I’m passionate about it. It started in history class when I was a kid.

“I have a bunch of people that know me well say that I should (pursue politics), but I haven’t made any decision. I don’t know if I ever will or if I may. It’s certainly an option but not anytime soon.”

Vickers admits that all the adversity he’s gone through in his career has made him a better and more aware person.

“When you’re laying on your death bed or going through a situation where you may not come out the other side, or you have a massive embolism that forms when you’re going in for open-heart surgery with not-so-great odds of coming out on the other side, you think about a lot of things,” he said. “What I learned through that experience is I loved racing more than I thought at the time. When you do some things long enough, you tend to take them for granted, whether it’s your racing career, your significant other or your friends. It’s human nature.

“It also made me realize there’s a whole other world out there, there’s a lot of things that I never could do because I was so 100 percent focused on racing. I’m very happy, I miss racing, would love to be in a race car. I think I’m a better driver today than I’ve ever been in my life. I think I can go win a championship.

“But if that opportunity doesn’t present itself, I’m still going to be a happy person and go work hard to accomplish other things and check off other boxes.”

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Matt Tifft fastest in first of 2 Xfinity practices at Kentucky Speedway

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Matt Tifft ran 25 laps during Friday afternoon’s first of two NASCAR Xfinity Series practice sessions at Kentucky Speedway.

But it was just one lap that mattered the most, as Tifft (180.427 mph) emerged from the 55-minute practice as the fastest in the 36 cars that took to the track.

Brian Scott was second (179.253 mph), followed by Ryan Preece (178.465), Brandon Jones (178.288), Justin Allgaier (178.271), Ben Kennedy (178.136), Elliott Sadler (177.573), Tyler Reddick (177.544), Spencer Gallagher Jr. (177.503) and Brennan Poole (177.381).

Interestingly enough, only four of the top-10 were playoff contenders. The seven-race Xfinity playoffs begin with Saturday night’s VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300.

There will be one more practice session today from 6:30-7:25 p.m. ET.

Qualifying and the race are Saturday.

Click here for the full practice speed grid.

Christopher Bell fastest in final Truck practice at New Hampshire

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Christopher Bell was fastest in the second and final NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice session Friday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Bell covered the 1.058-mile flat track with a top speed of 132.877 mph.

Ben Rhodes was second (132.301 mph), followed by Todd Gilliland (132.213), Matt Crafton (132.122) and Noah Gragson (132.071).

Sixth through 10th were Johnny Sauter (132.016), Austin Cindric (131.865), Grant Enfinger (131.683), Ryan Truex (131.656) and Kaz Grala ((131.533).

Qualifying for the UNOH 175 takes place Saturday at 10 a.m. ET, while the green flag for the race drops three hours later at 1 p.m. ET. Both qualifying and the race will be televised on FoxSports1.

Click here for the full speed grid from the final Truck practice.

New Hampshire to host September spectacular next year

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LOUDON, New Hampshire – Although the Cup series will not race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway next September, the track still will have racing.

Officials from New Hampshire Motor Speedway and NASCAR announced Friday that the track will host multiple series Sept. 21-22. The track will host:

  • A 250-lap NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race, the longest race in series history.
  • A 125-lap NASCAR K&N Pro Series race that will include series champions from the Mexico and Europe series.
  • A 100-lap NASCAR Pinty’s Series race in the first race for the Canadian series in the United States.

Practice and qualifying will take place on Sept. 21. Racing will be Sept. 22.

“We are creating a short-track weekend that I think fans from across the Northeast are going to be so excited about,” said David McGrath, executive vice president and general manager of the speedway.

McGrath estimates the track will attract 15,000 – 20,000 fans for the inaugural event.

“We will start there and certainly hope to grow there,” McGrath said. “We certainly have the space to do it.”

Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations, has high hopes for this event.

“Anytime we enter into a conversation about a special event like this, it’s done thinking about the long term and building,” Cassidy said. “I would like to look at this as certainly a building block on a big-time weekend for racing.”

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ready to move past Chicagoland woes

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LOUDON, New Hampshire — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was blunt as he looked back at last weekend’s 25th-place finish in the opening playoff race.

“It’s the worst playoff race I’ve ever had,’’ he said before quickly adding, “actually, it was the only playoff race I ever had.’’

A week after he hit the wall, had a commitment line violation and sped on pit road to finish last among the 16 playoff drivers, Stenhouse heads to a New Hampshire Motor Speedway that has been unkind to him. His average finish of 20.44 at this track is the worst among the playoff contenders.

It’s easy to peg Stenhouse, whose best finish at New Hampshire is ninth, as one of the four drivers who won’t advance to the second round after next weekend’s race at Dover International Speedway.

Stenhouse says don’t end his title hopes just yet.

“I think there are tracks you look at where you feel like, ‘Hey, we don’t run well there,’ ‘’ Stenhouse said Friday. “There are tracks you look at and average finishes aren’t as good as what you really ran, and I think New Hampshire is one of those race tracks for us.

“I can count two or three times where we’ve been in the top 10 and we come down on our last pit stop and we’ve had freak accidents on pit road that we end up restarting tail end. I think that skews a little bit on the finishes, so I think we’ve got confidence that we can run with those cars that we’re chasing.’’

He better or his playoff experience will be brief. He enters Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN) four points out of the cutoff spot.

“We keep our head up because we’re only four points out, so I think that’s the key message around the shop this week,’’ Stenhouse said. “We had, by far, the worst race we could have ever thought of having and we’re still close. I think that’s the key.”

For him to turn in a good run — and a good finish Sunday — Stenhouse said the key will be where he starts and how strong he is on restarts.

“We’ve always been really good on the long runs and you get quite a few long runs here,’’ said Stenhouse, who was 24th on the speed chart after Friday’s practice. “That seems to be our strong suit. Restarts seem to be some of the areas that we need to get better at. I was on the plane ride up today just looking at our notes from this last race and that was it. 

“We were strong on the long runs, needed to get our restarts better, and need to qualify better. These first two stages you can really run without pitting, so that first stage it’s going to be important to qualify well and make sure we put ourselves in a position to maybe get some stage points if it does go green, and our car is good on the long runs.’’

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