Health issues to sideline Brian Vickers for early part of 2015 Sprint Cup season

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In a major blow both personally and to his team, NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Brian Vickers will miss the 2015 season-opening Daytona 500, as well as an unspecified number of subsequent early-season races due to health issues, Michael Waltrip Racing officials announced Monday.

Vickers, who joined MWR in a part-time capacity in 2012 and was promoted to a full-time ride in 2014, has had prior health issues with his heart and blood clots.

In a media release provided by the team, Vickers said he felt ill last week and went for an exam, where another issue with his heart was discovered.

Here is Vickers’ statement:

First, I want to thank everyone for their sincere support. I have faced obstacles before and it has made victory that much sweeter and I know that will be the case again.

“My previous experiences have given me a very keen understanding of my body. Late last week I knew something wasn’t right, so I went to the hospital to be checked out.

“Following several tests, it was discovered that my body was rejecting an artificial patch that was inserted in 2010 to fix a hole in my heart.

“Saturday, I had to have corrective surgery to repair the hole and now I am beginning the recovery process. I will need plenty of time, rest and rehab but this temporary setback will not stop me from pursuing my dream of becoming a NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.”

It’s unclear how many races Vickers will miss while recovering. In its media release, the team said only that “Vickers will not be available to race during the early part of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.”

After spending 2012 and 2013 as a part-time driver for MWR (including a win at New Hampshire in July 2013), he was elevated to full-time status in 2014.

In 36 races last season, he had zero wins, three top-five and nine top-10 finishes, as well as one pole position (Chase race at Talladega). He finished 22nd in the final season standings.

In 58 overall starts for MWR in the No. 55 Toyota, Vickers has eight top-five and 19 top-10 showings.

In his overall Sprint Cup career, Vickers – who also previously drove for Hendrick Motorsports and Red Bull Racing – has three wins and 12 poles in 316 starts, dating back to the 2003 season.

MWR is looking at its options, including the likelihood of finding a replacement driver for Vickers during his recovery.

“Brian has been a part of the MWR family since 2012 and our thoughts today are with Brian, his wife Sarah and the Vickers family,” MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman said in a statement. “As a race team, MWR has plenty to consider and we will confer with our partners, including Aaron’s and Toyota.

“As this is fresh news, we will adjust our future plans as more information becomes available.”

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Valtteri Bottas takes pole position for season-opening Austrian GP

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas upstaged Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to take pole position Saturday for the Formula One Austrian GP.

The Finnish driver edged out the world champion by 0.012 seconds to claim the top spot for the season opener at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. He clenched his fist as he climbed out of his car and shared a hug with Hamilton.

“It’s something special when you push the car to the limit,” said Bottas, who is chasing an eighth career win. “Feels so good. It’s very impressive (from the team).”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third, and Lando Norris gave McLaren a boost by finishing fourth. Verstappen has won the past two years here, including 2019 when he started third behind Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

“It’s going to be interesting quite a bit warmer tomorrow and hopefully this will play to our advantage,” Verstappen said. “Today, Mercedes was on a different level, unfortunately. Last year we were also a little bit off in qualifying so I expect we will be a bit better in the race.”

Bottas had the leading time when drivers embarked on their final laps and beat his own mark before sliding off the track into the gravel.

Hamilton was chasing a record-extending 89th career pole. He was ahead but then dropped off slightly as Bottas secured a 12th career pole.

“Great job by Valtteri. It’s a great start to the season,” Hamilton said. “We show year on year that we continue to be the best team. We’re open-minded … constantly learning from each other and pushing the boundaries.”

Ferrari struggled for speed, with Leclerc nearly one second behind in seventh and Sebastian Vettel failing to make it into the third and final part of qualifying, known as Q3. He starts the race from 11th on the grid.

Vettel is leaving Ferrari at the end of the season with his future in F1 uncertain.

Earlier, Hamilton posted the fastest time in morning practice. The 35-year-old British driver was also quickest in both sessions on Friday.

Midway through third practice, F1 newcomer Nicholas Latifi misjudged the exit of a turn and spun his Williams car into a protective tire wall.