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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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NASCAR America: Pete Pistone on dirt racing in Xfinity, Cup

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Dirt racing is at the center of many conversations in NASCAR this week.

That’s thanks to the Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway on Wednesday and Tony Stewart‘s comments earlier this encouraging fans to put pressure on NASCAR to bring the Cup and Xfinity Series to his dirt track in the future.

On NASCAR America, Pete Pistone of SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” joined the show to discuss what fans think about the prospect of more dirt races at NASCAR’s national level and more mid-week races.

“There’s not much going on during the week right now until college (football) and NFL training camps start,” Pistone said. “The fans said this morning, ‘We’d like to see more Wednesday racing,’ and I couldn’t agree more.”

While Steve Letarte is in favor of more short tracks and mid-week races, he doesn’t want to see Cup and Xfinity “copy” what the Trucks do at Eldora.

“I think they have such a marquee event and they deserve this event,” Letarte said. “This dirt race, the Dirt Derby, has turned into must-see TV, for the Trucks. And I think it’s great for any national touring series to have that event. … I love the idea of not having to wait all week to watch three races. Why can’t I have a race on Tuesday, Wednesday, have a little news cycle. … I think there’s a lot to be said for timing, but as for Eldora, it holds a special place in my heart for the Trucks. Let them have it.”

Pistone said he tends to agree that the Trucks should get their own special event at Eldora. Where should any other dirt races be held?

“Why not look at a place like Knoxville (Raceway), which is so famous in Iowa that has sprint car races,” Pistone said. “There are so many other tracks in the country, if NASCAR can find a way to do something along the liens of and not just replicate Eldora, I think that would spark a lot of interest and energy and it seems that’s what the fan base is looking for.”

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Eldora recap, Pete Pistone

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to preview this weekend’s racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Steve Letarte in Stamford, Connecticut.

On today’s show:

  • NASCAR’s shipping up to New Hampshire this weekend, and as of late, the Toyotas have had the clear edge at “The Magic Mile.” It’s just one of several storylines to follow as we prepare for Sunday’s 301-lap Monster Energy Series race. We’ll have a full preview!
  • Last night, the Camping World Truck Series put on another incredible show in the Dirt Derby at Eldora. We’ll have highlights from the race, including the paint-trading finish between Chase Briscoe and Grant Enfinger that will be remembered for years to come.
  • SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s Pete Pistone will also call in live to talk fan reaction to last night’s Dirt Derby. Plus: Has the drivers’ mindset for New Hampshire changed now that they won’t be heading back there for the playoffs?
If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Top three Xfinity drivers separated by three points entering New Hampshire

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Things have gotten pretty tight at the top of the food chain in the Xfinity Series.

Following last weekend’s race at Kentucky Speedway, the point standings are not led by just one driver.

Through 17 races, the standings are led by both Elliott Sadler and Daniel Hemric, who are tied with 608 points.

To add to an already close situation, they have Cole Custer breathing down their necks is only three points behind them heading into Saturday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

How did this situation arise considering none of the drivers have claimed a win this year?

Consistency. It’s disappeared for Sadler while Hemric and Custer have used it to catch the JR Motorsports driver.

Following the June 2 race at Pocono Raceway, Sadler had a 62-point lead over second in the standings. His lead slipped away over the next five races thanks to finishing 12th or worst three times.

He placed 30th at Michigan, 28th at Iowa and 12th at Kentucky.

That was after entering Michigan with top-10 finishes in the first 12 races of the season.

In the five races since Pocono, Hemric hasn’t finished worse than eighth and has three top-three finishes. Custer has four top fives and a DNF (wreck, Daytona).

Compared to this point last year, Sadler has more top fives (10 to seven in 2017), the same number of top 10s (14) and his average finish is 7.9 compared to 8.8.

Sadler, is mired in a 56 race winless streak that began in October 2016. And this season he’s been the best finishing Xfinity regular just once and the best finishing JR Motorsports driver only seven times.

Hemric and Custer are each in their second full-time seasons in Xfinity and have shown significant improvement over this same point in their rookie campaigns.

Through 17 races, Hemric has two poles (one in 2017), nine top fives (two in 2017), 13 top 10s (six in 2017) and no DNFs (three in 2017).

Custer has four poles (none in 2017), seven top fives (two in 2017), 13 top 10s (seven in 2017) and two DNFs (three in 2017).

Over the last eight races Hemric and Custer are tied for the most top fives with six. In that stretch, Hemric leads the series in top 10s (eight), average finish (4.13) and race points earned (311).

The point standings would be even narrower if not for two penalties dealt out by NASCAR this season to two of the three Xfinity regulars who have won races.

Christopher Bell and Justin Allgaier enter New Hampshire in fourth (-17 points) and fifth (-39).

Bell lost 10 points after the Charlotte race for a post-race heights violation.

Allgaier was dealt a 25-point penalty following his win at Dover for a post-race inspection violation.

The two drivers would be in the same spot in the standings without the penalties.

Among Sadler, Hemric and Custer, it may be Custer who is the favorite to leave New Hampshire with points lead.

Custer is the only one of the trio with any success at the 1-mile track.

He’s won there in the K&N Pro Series East (2013) and in the Camping World Truck Series (2014).

He placed ninth in his first Xfinity start there last year.

“I think we’ve had really good cars in the past at short tracks and I think it’s more natural to me than a mile-and-a-half,” Custer said in a media release. “It’s probably like that for most guys. We just grew up running short tracks and didn’t have to deal with aero as much. We took a lot of good notes from New Hampshire last year that we’ll build on.”

Meanwhile, in 14 career starts at New Hampshire, Sadler has only led 26 laps and he hasn’t finished better than sixth since he returned to full-time Xfinity competition in 2011.

“We’re bringing the car we ran in Richmond, which is one of my favorites,” Sadler said in a media release. “We know it’s fast and is capable of a top-three finish. The end of the regular season isn’t too far away, so we’ve got to stick to our strategy, earn stage points and ultimately get ourselves and our partners a win.”

Sadler led 30 laps and finished third at Richmond.

Hemric placed 12th in his first Xfinity start in Loudon last year. In two Truck Series starts, he placed sixth and 28th (DNF).

“New Hampshire is always a place I look forward going to each year, especially how our company is on the short tracks right now,” Hemric said in a media release. “I feel like I know what I want in terms of speed when I get to a place like New Hampshire, it’s just a matter of getting our race car where we want it. I feel good headed to New Hampshire this weekend.”

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Joe Gibbs Racing returns to New Hampshire, where dominance began last July

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The 2017 Cup season was not too kind to Joe Gibbs Racing through its first 18 races.

Then the series went to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

After entering last year’s July event at the 1-mile track winless, the race served as a launching pad for JGR, which leads the series in every major stat category in the 36 races since.

Counting Denny Hamlin‘s win in the July 16 race, the four-car team has won 14 times in the following year, which leads all other teams by five victories.

JGR closed out 2017 with eight wins in 19 races, compared to the Martin Truex Jr.‘s six wins in the same span.

Thanks to Racing Insights, here’s a look at JGR’s success against the competition since last July’s race at New Hampshire.

Ten of JGR’s wins in the last year belong to Kyle Busch, including the September playoff race in New Hampshire.

The rest belong to Denny Hamlin (two wins), Matt Kenseth (one) and Erik Jones (one).

Busch is one of six active drivers who have three wins at New Hampshire, including Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Hamlin and Kenseth.

Kyle Busch is the only one of those drivers with a win this season.

New Hampshire has been very kind to Busch and his fellow Toyota drivers.

In the last 11 races at the flat, 1-mile track, Toyota has won eight of them. In the last four races in Loudon, Toyota has led 1,168 laps (97.2 percent) out of a possible 1,202 laps. Chevrolet has led 31 and Ford has led 3.

Chevrolet has the only non-Toyota win in the last six New Hampshire races. That was won by Kevin Harvick in 2016 before Stewart-Haas Racing moved to Ford.

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