Brian Vickers has been cleared by NASCAR to return, and if he is announced as Stewart-Haas Racing’s interim driver as expected Friday, he’s cleared for the Sprint Unlimited, too.
NASCAR vice president of racing development Steve O’Donnell confirmed on Thursday’s NASCAR America that Vickers has been approved to race. He missed all but two races last season after a recurrence of blood clots that already had sidelined him twice for multirace stretches twice during his NASCAR career in 2010 and 13.
Vickers is expected to be announced at 11:30 a.m. as the Speedweeks replacement for Tony Stewart, who is out indefinitely after fracturing his back in an ATV accident, and it appears Vickers also will be in Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet when the first practice for the Sprint Unlimited begins at 5 p.m. at Daytona International Speedway.
Though eligibility for the 2016 Sprint Unlimited is tied to a driver – Stewart was eligible by virtue of being a past winner of the event – NASCAR has elected to allow SHR to field the No. 14 in the Unlimited regardless of whether the team’s driver is eligible.
“We have not been informed who the driver will be” in the Unlimited, O’Donnell said on NACAR America. “We can just confirm we will allow the 14 in the race.”
NASCAR had been mulling the move since Stewart’s injury was revealed last week. SHR has been preparing for the race with a purpose-built car, and it might have been difficult to line up a replacement for the 24-driver field on short notice.
Some teams in recent years have elected to skip the Sprint Unlimited because of a smaller purse and the race’s propensity for large wrecks that make it difficult to justify the cost. Last year, four eligible drivers withdrew.