Four-time NHRA Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson reached the final round at Atlanta on Monday in only his second start of the 2014 season after undergoing off-season heart surgery. (Photo courtesy NHRA)

Healed from heart surgery, 4-time NHRA Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson back in the saddle this weekend in Houston

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The vacation of sorts is over for drivers in the Pro Stock class of the NHRA. Things are going to get a lot rougher from here on out.

The reason? Former Pro Stock world champ Greg Anderson will make his return from off-season surgery at this weekend’s O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals at Houston’s Royal Purple Raceway.

Anderson has missed the first seven races of the 2014 season after offseason surgery to repair a bicuspid aortic valve in his heart. He was cleared by a panel of doctors Monday and will resume racing on Friday.

“It was very difficult to sit out those first five races,” Anderson said in an NHRA media release. “We racers tend to think that everything in life is all about drag racing. Nothing is more important. We live it, breath it, eat it, sleep it. And sometimes we think we’re invincible – but I found out firsthand that we’re not.”

Along those same lines, Anderson has developed a new appreciation for not only his own health, but also in just how serious his condition and recovery wound up being.

“In the beginning, I thought the surgery and recovery would be a simple deal, a piece of cake, that I would bounce right back,” Anderson admitted. “Turns out it was a huge deal and a new chapter for me. They fixed me up, but there was still a challenge ahead and a lot of pain to go through.

“You realize you aren’t invincible when you go through something like that. You have to learn to be patient, take your time, go slow and follow the doctor’s orders, and that’s a whole new game for a guy like me.

“Somehow, I learned how to be patient, healed up in the proper amount of time, and now it’s time to go racing again. I couldn’t be more excited to get back behind the wheel of my Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro.”

Getting back to drag racing, particularly at Houston, could ultimately wind up being the best medicine for Anderson, who is a two-time winner at Royal Purple Raceway.

“To be honest with you, I can’t remember ever going to a race this happy, this positive and feeling this good,” Anderson said. “I guess it’s kind of a new lease on life for me; I rolled back my odometer, so to speak. Now it’s time to get back to racing. That’s what we love, that’s where we feel at home.”

Anderson has 74 national event wins and is a four-time NHRA Pro Stock champion. Teammate Jason Line is the defending PS champ in this weekend’s event, as well.

Anderson was replaced behind the wheel for the first seven races by European Pro Stock champ Jimmy Alund, who ultimately made his swan song appearance in Anderson’s car at the last race, winning the Pro Stock class at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, N.C.

“I’m excited to get back in the same car that Jimmy won with in Charlotte,” Anderson said. “The guys have done such a fantastic job with this car, and I don’t just mean Jason Line, Rob Downing and the entire crew that works on it.

“Jimmy has done a fantastic job of driving the car and also of helping the guys find a happy spot for that racecar to run in. My hat’s off to the entire team and Jimmy Alund. That car is working very, very nicely, and I found that out firsthand yesterday when we made a few test runs. It’s like it’s on autopilot. It’s smooth as glass.”

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IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Marco Andretti

Marco Andretti
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the Verizon IndyCar Series field in 2015 with Marco Andretti, who finished ninth after another top-10 season in points.

Marco Andretti, No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2014: 9th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 5th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 23 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 12.2 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 9th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 3rd, 2 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 60 Laps Led, 11.5 Avg. Start, 9.1 Avg. Finish

It was a dependable, quiet but usually consistent season from Marco Andretti, who up until the final quarter of the season had actually been his father’s most reliable finisher.

Andretti didn’t necessarily have a ton of standout drives but he was usually there or thereabouts, and by the end of the day he was often at the low ends of the top-10, which earlier this year given the at-times troublesome Honda aero kit package on road and street courses was more of an accomplishment than you’d think. Three top-10 results in the first four races was proof positive of that.

As ever Andretti excelled most on the big ovals. Sixth at the Indianapolis 500 was as good as was possible given the lack of top-end speed; similarly, he probably could have emerged at the head of the field at Fontana, ending third when all was said and done.

His best result was second in the rain at Detroit race one, although coming second to teammate Carlos Munoz had to sting a little bit. Andretti had driven well that race, and was unfortunate not to be rewarded with his first win in four years.

The thing that would have been his standout stat of the year, finishing every lap, game unglued with an odd accident on home soil in Pocono. It was a shame to see because Andretti was typically good, if not great, for yet another season.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver lineup in the Verizon IndyCar Series, after the 2015 season, with eighth-placed Tony Kanaan.

Tony Kanaan, No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 7th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 407 Laps Led, 9.2 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 8th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 213 Laps Led, 7.6 Avg Start, 9.9 Avg. Finish

You have to give TK credit. Armed with one of the best cars on the grid, Kanaan has certainly raised his game the last two years, and probably hasn’t received enough credit or enough results for some of his drives he’s put in since joining Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2013 season.

The 2015 season was no exception. All 10 of his top-10 finishes were between second and seventh, so there were plenty of times he was in win and podium contention. The other area where he improved was his qualifying. Kanaan only had two starts outside the top-12 all season, one of which occurred at Detroit race two, where the grid was set by points following a rain cancellation. Detroit was pretty much the only weekend where Kanaan didn’t figure into qualifying or the race. Blame the Taylor Swift-inspired Big Machine Records livery for that one if you want.

Accidents at the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono were costly retirements as Kanaan definitely had a shot to win both those races. But realistically you couldn’t find many other faults. Losing a sure win at Iowa due to a mechanical issue was a gutting blow. He was also unlucky to come up just shy at Fontana, and may have prevailed in a last-lap shootout.

More often that not however, Kanaan was firmly on top of his game, and reliably on par with his championship-winning teammate Scott Dixon, which was all you could ask for. It’s fitting the two of them opened the year as part of the winning lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Kanaan then helping out matters by finishing ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya at Sonoma, to ensure Dixon had enough points to win the title on countback.