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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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Court documents tell two sides in Ward family lawsuit against Tony Stewart

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Tony Stewart denied turning up the track toward Kevin Ward Jr. in a 171-page deposition that was released this week as part of court documents in the Ward family’s lawsuit against Stewart.

The Ward family filed a wrongful death lawsuit Aug. 7, 2015, nearly a year after the 20-year-old Ward was struck and killed by Stewart during an Empire Super Sprints race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York. A grand jury ruled Sept. 24, 2014, that Stewart would not face criminal charges.

Stewart seeks a summary judgement. A hearing is scheduled April 28 in U.S. District Court in Utica, New York.

Stewart and Ward had been racing together when Ward spun into the wall — Stewart claimed in his deposition he did not hit Ward, while others have countered that in their depositions.

After the incident, Ward exited his car and walked down the track.

Here’s what happened next, based on court documents:

ACCIDENT RECONSTRUCTION REPORTS FILED

Both sides have submitted reports that detailed what happened.

The report on behalf of Stewart states: “When (Chuck) Hebing (who was in front of Stewart’s car) was passing by him, Mr. Ward shuffled his feet and moved about 0.7 feet up the track. But, as soon as Mr. Hebing passed him, Mr. Ward continued moving parallel to the track and also took a step about 1.5 to 2.3 feet down the track, towards and into the path of Mr. Stewart’s car.”

The report on behalf of the Ward family views the matter in a different way. It states: “Immediately prior to impact, Mr. Ward remained relatively stationary and remained outside the path where six preceding Sprint Cars had passed his location without incident. Therefore, Mr. Ward did not cause the impact with (Stewart’s car) but was rather the victim of Mr. Stewart directing his (car) toward his location.’’

The report filed on behalf of Stewart addresses Stewart’s car in the moments before and after striking Ward: “In this case, the inputs to get the car to drive around and avoid contact with Mr. Ward include steering to the left and/or applying some throttle to assist the car’s counterclockwise rotation. We know from the video stills discussed above that the car was pointed towards the infield and traveled down track while in the field of view of the camera. It would take about 1 second for the car to respond to the driver’s steering and throttle inputs.

“That would mean that the driver of the car, Mr. Stewart, had to perceive and react to the emergency of Mr. Ward’s appearance before the full appearance of Mr. Ward from behind Mr. Hebing’s #45 car. Given the typical perception-reaction time of 1.0 to 1.5 seconds for a normal driver in an emergency, and the fact that the track was under caution and the drivers were not racing, Mr. Stewart’s perception-reaction time was reasonable given the visibility, lighting, and unexpected motion of Mr. Ward prior to Mr. Stewart’s car arriving at Mr. Ward’s position.

“In summary, Mr. Stewart simply did not have enough time to react to Mr. Ward’s unpredictable actions and successfully avoid hitting him.’’

The report on behalf of the Ward family also sees that incident differently: “It is apparent Mr. Stewart intentionally caused his vehicle to move towards Mr. Ward by aggressively adding throttle input while counter steering through the turn.’’

TONY STEWART’S DEPOSITION

Stewart gave a deposition Dec. 8, 2016. The full transcript was filed earlier this week by Ward’s side in opposition of Stewart seeking a summary judgment. Ward’s father and mother attended Stewart’s deposition, which took place in Indianapolis.

In his deposition, Stewart was asked about the incident. This was how he answered questions on the matter.

Q. All right. After you saw his car, you saw him; he was on the track?

A. After I — yeah, after I saw his car, then I saw him.

Q. Okay. And —

A. Or a figure. I didn’t know that it was him but I saw —

Q. Fair enough. You saw a person on the track?

A. Yes.

Q. When you saw the car, you knew just procedure, that your pass was to be low?

A. Yeah, he was all the way to the outside — the car was all the way to the outside of the track, so anywhere that we went was going to be below it.

Q. All right. So where were you driving your car when you entered turn 1 as on the track? Middle of the track? Low track? High part of the track?

A. I really don’t remember. I mean, typically you would run somewhere in the middle of the racetrack.

Q. Okay. When you saw Mr. — when you saw the car that was disabled at the top part of the track, did you steer your vehicle in any direction that you recall?

A. No. I was already underneath the vehicle.

Q. You were underneath it. Okay. So you did not change the line that you were on based on your realizing where the car was that was disabled was on the track; is that fair?

A. Correct.

Q. All right. Now, in relation to the car that was on the track, where was the person that you saw on the track?

A. Initially when I saw the car, I didn’t realize there wasn’t a driver in the car.

Q. But at some point you did?

A. Yes.

Q. All right. And when you saw that person, did you from that point on change the direction of your vehicle based on seeing that person on the track?

A. It was a split second from the time that I saw a person until I got to the person.

Q. Okay. Is that a “no”?

A. I attempted to change direction.

Q. Okay. You don’t recall — and when you say you “attempted to change direction,” you attempted to change direction to the left down the track?

A. Correct.

Q. All right. It’s your testimony that you did not at any time after seeing Mr. Ward’s car or Mr. Ward on the track steer your car up the track?

A. No, sir.

DEPOSITIONS FROM OTHER DRIVERS IN AUG. 2014 SPRINT CAR RACE

Chuck Hebing, who was in that race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park and running ahead of Stewart under caution as they approached the area where Ward wrecked, described what happened in his deposition:

“(Ward) was coming down the track. I thought he was actually coming to my car. Me and Kevin have — I might have ran him out of room in that race, so I thought he might have been mad at me. Came at my car. I gassed it, swerved away from him and said to myself that “Next guy in line was probably going to hit him.”

Jessica Zemken-Friesen, who dated Stewart in 2011, also was competing in the race and running behind Stewart under caution. In her deposition, she described what she saw:

A. I was following Tony, and I – they were saying on the radio to stay low, and I was lower on the track, and I was behind him, right directly behind him pulling into turn one and two, and they were telling us to stay low. And I started to come down a little bit, and I could see Tony’s left front wheel turn to the right, closer in the direction of where Kevin was up higher on the racetrack. Um, and then I could see, um, I was just underneath him, and I could look up and see – I could see Kevin still there in front of his car with his hands in the air. And I saw the rear of the car stand up and the – the dust come off the rear tires as Tony hit the throttle.

Q. And then?

A. And then when he – when he hit the throttle the rear of the car came around and the front end of the car went to the left, the car got sideways, and he struck Kevin.’’

Later, Zemken-Friesen was asked:

Q. Do you think Mr. Stewart intentionally hit Mr. Ward?

A. I don’t know what he was thinking or what was going through his mind. I just was behind it and saw what I saw.’

MORE OF TONY STEWART DEPOSITION

Stewart was asked about his temper and various penalties he had been given in NASCAR for his actions, as Ward’s side seeks to show that Stewart has a history of his anger dictating his actions.

Q. All right. Would you say that you have had a — had some issues with your anger throughout the course of your life?

A. Occasionally.

Q. And have you, in fact, sought any counseling or treatment for that?

A. No, sir.

Q. Never had any anger management or counseling or any formalized process to help you with anger?

A. No, sir.

Stewart then was asked about incidents with Brian Vickers, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. He also was asked about an incident with Kurt Busch inside the NASCAR hauler at Daytona International Speedway.

Q. Have you had any physical confrontations with any other drivers or people that were related to races where there were any punches thrown or shoves gone back and forth?

A. Kurt Busch.

Q. What happened with Kurt Busch?

A. We had an altercation inside the NASCAR trailer with the officials.

Q. Did you punch Mr. Busch or shove him?

A. Yes.

Q. And who precipitated that physical confrontation, you or Mr. Busch?

A. I did.

Q. And what was — why were you — why did you initiate a physical confrontation with Mr. Busch?

A. For lack of better terms, he initiated the — basically he was antagonizing us in front of the NASCAR officials and very inappropriately.

Q. And but with words?

A. Yes.

Q. And you responded with physical aggression?

A. Yes.

Q. All right. Is it a fair sum-up or not for some of the stuff we’ve just gone through to say that various times you’ve used your fists, your helmet and your car as a tool — as tools of physical force against other racers?

MR. SMIKLE: I’m going to object to the form of the question. It’s vague and ambiguous.

But go ahead and answer.

THE WITNESS: What you’ve shown is — I’ve raced for 38 years, I’ve raced over 1,500 races and what you’ve shown is less than 1 percent of the races that I participated in NASCAR. So altercations like that happen amongst drivers every week. So this is not un — this isn’t out of the ordinary for our sport.

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How would new Cup-Xfinity rules have affected teams in recent seasons?

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NASCAR announced a new rule Wednesday limiting participation in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series by Sprint Cup drivers.

Under the restrictions, full-time Cup drivers with at least five years of experience will be limited to 10 races annually in Xfinity and seven in the Camping World Truck Series. They also will be prevented from entering the final eight races of the season in both series, covering their championship playoffs.

The new rules would have affected three drivers this season — Kyle Busch (16 Xfinity starts for Joe Gibbs Racing), Brad Keselowski (13 Xfinity starts for Team Penske) and Joey Logano (13 Xfinity starts for Team Penske).

This is the first major rules change affecting the eligibility of Cup drivers in Xfinity since 2011 when drivers were prevented from earning points. Here is the breakdown of how often the top teams in the Xfinity Series with Sprint Cup affiliations fielded full-time Sprint Cup drivers (regardless of experience):

2016 XFINITY SERIES

Joe Gibbs Racing

Kyle Busch – 16 starts

Denny Hamlin — 2

Richard Childress Racing

Austin Dillon – 16

Michael McDowell – 1

Paul Menard — 8

Team Penske

Brad Keselowski – 13

Joey Logano — 13

JR Motorsports

Clint Bowyer – 1

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 2

Chase Elliott — 6

Kevin Harvick – 6

Kasey Kahne – 1

Chip Ganassi Racing

Kyle Larson — 14

Roush Fenway Racing

Trevor Bayne  — 1

2015 XFINITY SERIES

Joe Gibbs Racing

Kyle Busch – 15 starts

Denny Hamlin — 11

Matt Kenseth – 5

David Ragan — 1

Richard Childress Racing

Austin Dillon – 20

Paul Menard — 8

Team Penske

Brad Keselowski – 9

Joey Logano — 11

JR Motorsports

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 4

Kevin Harvick – 12

Kasey Kahne — 7

2014 XFINITY SERIES

Joe Gibbs Racing

Kyle Busch – 26 starts

Denny Hamlin — 1

Matt Kenseth – 19

Richard Childress Racing

Austin Dillon – 1

Paul Menard – 8

Team Penske

Brad Keselowski – 11

Joey Logano — 10

JR Motorsports

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 4

Kevin Harvick – 15

Kasey Kahne — 3

2013 XFINITY SERIES

Joe Gibbs Racing

Kyle Busch – 26 starts

Brian Vickers — 30

Denny Hamlin — 1

Matt Kenseth – 16

Michael McDowell – 2

Richard Childress Racing

Kevin Harvick – 11

Paul Menard – 4

Tony Stewart — 1

Team Penske

Brad Keselowski – 16

Joey Logano – 15

AJ Allmendinger — 2

JR Motorsports

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 4

Jimmie Johnson – 1

Kasey Kahne – 11

Jamie McMurray — 1

Roush Fenway Racing

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — 1

2012 XFINITY SERIES

Joe Gibbs Racing

Joey Logano — 22 starts

Denny Hamlin — 12

Brian Vickers – 1

Michael McDowell – 5

Mark Martin – 1

Clint Bowyer — 1

Richard Childress Racing

Kevin Harvick – 13

Paul Menard – 7

Tony Stewart — 1

Team Penske

Brad Keselowski – 21

JR Motorsports

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 4

Roush Fenway Racing

Carl Edwards — 1

2011 XFINITY SERIES

Joe Gibbs Racing

Kyle Busch – 20 starts

Joey Logano — 22

Denny Hamlin — 5

Michael McDowell – 5

Team Penske

Brad Keselowski – 29

JR Motorsports

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 3

Jimmie Johnson – 1

Kasey Kahne – 2

Jamie McMurray — 3

Roush Fenway Racing

Carl Edwards – 33

Matt Kenseth — 1

Breaking down drivers’ records in the Chase for the Sprint Cup

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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The field for the 13th Chase for the Sprint Cup will finally be decided this weekend after 25 races of buildup and 13 different winners.

There are three spaces left to be filled on the Chase grid, four if Chris Buescher finds a way to drop out of the top 30 in the points standings. Among the drivers hovering around the bubble area include Buescher, Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman.

Newman’s hill toward Chase eligibility became tougher to climb Wednesday after he was docked 15 driver points for failing post-race inspection at Darlington. Newman is now 22 points behind McMurray for the final Chase spot.

Here’s a look at the Chase records of the 12 drivers who have clinched a Chase spot and their postseason history, followed by a look back at the five times drivers raced their way into the Chase.

Driver Chase history

Brad Keselowski – Fifth Chase appearance; five wins in Chase; won 2012 championship.

Kyle Busch – Ninth Chase appearance; three wins in Chase races (one as Chase member); won championship in 2015

Kevin Harvick – 10th Chase appearance; nine wins in Chase races; won championship in 2014

Carl Edwards – 10th Chase appearance; eight wins in Chase races; best Chase finish of second in 2008 and 2011

Denny Hamlin – 10th Chase appearance; seven wins in Chase races; best Chase finish of second in 2010

Martin Truex Jr – fourth Chase Appearance; no Chase wins; best finish fourth in 2015

Matt Kenseth – 12th Chase appearance; seven wins in Chase races; best finish of second in 2006 and 2013

Jimmie Johnson – Only driver to make the Chase in all 13 seasons; 26 wins in Chase races; won championship six times (2006, ’07, ’08, ’09, ’10 and ’13)

Joey Logano – Fourth Chase appearance; Five wins in Chase races; best Chase finish of fourth in 2014

Kurt Busch – 10th Chase appearance; three wins in Chase races (two since winning 2004 championship, first year of Chase)

Kyle Larson – First Chase appearance

Tony Stewart – Ninth Chase appearance; 11 wins in Chase races; won championship in 2005 and 2011 (one non-Chase championship)

Drivers who have raced their way into Chase at Richmond

2004: Jeremy Mayfield – Entered race 14th in points, won race and left 10th in points; replaced Kasey
Kahne who came in ninth.

2005: Ryan Newman – Entered race in 11th in points and left sixth, replacing McMurray who came in 10th.

2006: Kasey Kahne – Entered race 11th in points and left in eighth, replaced Tony Stewart who entered in eighth and left in 11th.

2009: Brian Vickers – Entered race 13th in points and left 12th, replacing Matt Kenseth who came in 12th

2012: Jeff Gordon – Entered race 13th in points, finished second and replaced Kyle Busch as the wild
card who finished 16th and missed the last wild card slot by three points.

 

Entry list for the 23rd annual Brickyard 400

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Forty cars are entered into the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which was won by Kyle Busch in 2015.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is on the entry list but his status for the race has not been determined after he missed Sunday’s race at New Hampshire for concussion-like symptoms.

If Earnhardt is not cleared to race, five-time Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon will come out of retirement to drive the No. 88 car this weekend.

 

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