Brian Vickers

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Brian Vickers potential adds to SPM’s month of May intrigue

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In recent days and weeks, speculation has been rife over who will fill one of two likely final entries for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil: the third Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

Last month, and this came as a shock to many, but RACER.com discovered that NASCAR race winner and current part-timer Brian Vickers had entered the frame of discussion for the seat.

Vickers followed up on the possibility during a media availability at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, where he is filling in for Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

“I would love to have something to announce [but] unfortunately there is nothing to announce at this point,” Vickers said.

“It is still on the table. It’s not done, but it’s not off the table yet either.”

The connection makes more sense when you realize Vickers and Jay Frye have worked together before at Red Bull’s NASCAR operation; Frye is now INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations.

Other candidates revealed publicly include Stefan Wilson, Gabby Chaves and Oriol Servia, as noted in this Motorsport.com piece.

If it’s those four who are in the frame for one seat, inevitably three of them would be left high, dry and disappointed.

And while storyline-wise all four of them make sense, only one and maybe two are feasible from a realistic helping the team for this month of May standpoint.

Vickers would draw the most attention from a 10,000 feet above, national standpoint. Everyone loves a comeback story and Vickers’ return to racing after persistent blood clots has been one of the more remarkable in recent memory.

With Kurt Busch having ruled out a run a couple weeks ago, if NASCAR wanted a driving link to this year’s 500, they’d have one in Vickers.

Realistically though, Vickers, 32, is the riskiest option. He’s never driven an IndyCar and would need to adapt quickly to his new environment, and the style of driving.

That said, he’s certainly capable of it, given what he’s done in sports cars and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans before. He’s done well in NASCAR despite adverse circumstances facing him; he’s been picked for fill-in roles for several years over others. That speaks to his adaptability in short time frames.

Wilson would tick the emotional boxes for several reasons. The 26-year-old Englishman has been working feverishly on a program working to introduce solar to the Speedway for several months, and is keen to get back behind the wheel after an extended hiatus of his own.

Naturally, there’s also the desire of him wanting to be on the grid to fulfill the family legacy at the first ‘500 since his older brother Justin lost his life at Pocono. He’d be a heartwarming story, and he also has the talent and relevant open-wheel experience to jump in. He has raced at the Speedway before in Indy Lights, and has one career IndyCar start (2013 at Baltimore).

Chaves, 22, would measure up nicely from a perseverance standpoint. The Colombian-American did everything right last year despite running with a single-car team and a smaller budget. That Bryan Herta did nearly everything to keep him even as he was trying to ensure his team stayed in the sport, now partnered with Andretti Autosport, spoke volumes of what he thinks of Chaves.

And Gabby’s got the most recent team experience of these four, too. He tested nicely for Schmidt Peterson at both Phoenix and Sebring to help get the car more in the window for the opening rounds of the season. Mikhail Aleshin finishing fifth at St. Petersburg probably doesn’t happen without Chaves’ data and feedback from the Sebring test. He’s also kept his face out there at both events, ensuring he’s staying in the frame without being in a car. Few realize how truly talented he is.

Lastly, there’s Servia, 41, who doesn’t have the huge story line angle but would be the best of the bunch from a pure feedback and development standpoint – especially with new aerodynamic components coming into play this year the Speedway.

Servia would be the rock to aid Hinchcliffe and Aleshin back to stability and comfort after both drivers return for their first big oval races since devastating, near-fatal accidents – Hinchcliffe in practice last year at Indianapolis, and Aleshin, in night practice in 2014 at Fontana.

It’s no disrespect to the other three, but there’s a reason Servia has made a career in this series for the better part of 15 years with 13 different teams, for 198 career races. He is as plug-and-play as you get, and when your last three starts have been for three different teams (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Andretti Autosport, Team Penske), the latter two with barely more than 24 hours notice, you know you can install him to do the job.

SPM is going to be a story line at this year’s Indianapolis 500 to begin with, given both drivers’ big oval race returns.

The team’s storyline may only go greater depending on who gets the nod in the team’s third car.

NASCAR: Entry list set for Sprint Unlimited; David Gilliland out, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is the fourth driver to be added to Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited to fill the 25-car field.

Stenhouse is in the race after David Gilliland’s team withdrew. A spokesperson for Front Row Motorsports said the team did not have sponsorship for the event and elected to skip it.

Others who were eligible to compete in the 75-lap exhibition race at Daytona International Speedway but won’t are Brian Scott, Brian Vickers and AJ Allmendinger.

Replacing them are Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Casey Mears and Stenhouse.

NASCAR announced in December it was expanding the Sprint Unlimited field to 25 teams. The event is open to all 16 Chase teams from the previous season along with pole winners from last year, former Unlimited winners and former Daytona 500 winners. Any remaining spots go to the highest remaining drivers in points.

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2015 SPRINT UNLIMITED AT DAYTONA
Entry List

1-Jamie McMurray (Chip Ganassi Racing/McDonalds)
2-Brad Keselowski (Team Penske/Miller Lite)
3-Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing/Dow Chemical)
4-Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing/Jimmy John’s + Budweiser)
5-Kasey Kahne (Hendrick Motorsports/Great Clips)
10-Danica Patrick (Stewart-Haas Racing/GoDaddy)
11-Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing/FedEx Express)
13-Casey Mears (Germain Racing/GEICO)
14-Tony Stewart (Stewart-Haas Racing/Mobil 1 + Bass Pro Shops)
15-Clint Bowyer (Michael Waltrip Racing/5-Hour Energy)
16-Greg Biffle (Roush Fenway Racing/Ortho)
17-Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Roush Fenway Racing/Fastenal)
18-Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing/M&Ms)
19-Carl Edwards (Joe Gibbs Racing/Arris)
20-Matt Kenseth (Joe Gibbs Racing/Dollar General)
22-Joey Logano (Team Penske/Shell-Pennzoil)
24-Jeff Gordon (Hendrick Motorsports/AARP Drive to End Hunger)
27-Paul Menard (Richard Childress Racing/Peak-Menards)
31-Ryan Newman (Richard Childress Racing/Caterpillar)
41-Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing/Haas Automation)
42-Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing/Target)
43-Aric Almirola (Richard Petty Motorsports/Smithfield)
48-Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports/Lowe’s)
78-Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing/Furniture Row)
88-Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Hendrick Motorsports/Nationwide Insurance)

WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 5 p.m. ET – Interviews with Dale Jr., Edwards, Stewart, and Vickers

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One-on-one interviews with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, and Brian Vickers are part of today’s episode of NASCAR AMERICA at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

If you can’t tune in, you can stream today’s show online and on your mobile device through NBC Sports Live Extra.

If you plan to stream, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified. Once you plug those pieces of information in, you’ll have access to the stream.

Again, CLICK HERE at 5 p.m. ET to watch NASCAR AMERICA.

NASCAR: Michael Waltrip shares thoughts on what Daytona 500 means to him

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The Daytona 500 means a lot to many people. Michael Waltrip is no different.

His love for the race began with a road trip to the 1975 running to see his older brother, Darrell, compete. Michael was 11 at the time.

Four decades have passed since. Michael Waltrip would experience the greatest joy and deepest sorrow in the event – two victories in 2001 and 2003, but also, the loss of team owner and friend, Dale Earnhardt Sr., in a last-lap crash during the 2001 race.

As Waltrip prepares to race in his 28th Daytona 500 in place of Brian Vickers (who is recovering from December heart surgery), he has put down thoughts on what this particular race has meant to him in a column for the Associated Press. Here’s a clip of that:

I remember driving through that tunnel for the first time, seeing those high banks, just soaking in the enormity of the facility and the fact that all my racing legend heroes had won there. It is a feeling that never leaves you and it is what makes the Daytona 500 so intimately special to me.

My career defining moments happened there.

My greatest wins.

One of my greatest losses.

Deep emotions, Daytona stirs them all.

Michael writes about Vickers and his determination to stay competitive despite health woes in recent years, as well as his own beliefs that Michael Waltrip Racing can contend for the win on Feb. 22.

For more of Michael’s thoughts, go to the link above.

NASCAR: Casey Mears to compete in this year’s Sprint Unlimited

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Casey Mears will join the 25-car Sprint Unlimited next week, a team spokesperson confirmed Friday. The Germain Racing driver will be the third competitor to be added to fill the field.

Brian Vickers, Brian Scott and AJ Allmendinger each were eligible for the event but those teams have pulled out. That’s allowed Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard and Mears to join the field.

The 75-lap exhibition race, which will be held Feb. 14 at Daytona International Speedway, will have an expanded field this season. NASCAR announced in December that all 16 Chase drivers were eligible for the event along with pole winners from last year, former Sprint Unlimited winners, and former Daytona 500 pole winners who competed full time in 2014. If any of the 25 spots remain, then those highest in the points not yet eligible would qualify.

Vickers, who won a pole last year, will not compete because he will skip the first two points races of the season as he completes his recovery from off-season corrective heart surgery. Richard Childress Racing confirmed that Scott, who won a pole last year, will not compete.

Tad Geschickter, owner of JTG Daugherty, told MotorsportsTalk that the team did not know it would be eligible to compete in the non-points race until December and was unable to find sponsorship for it. Thus, Allmendinger, eligible because he was in last year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, will not compete in this event.