Brian Vickers to return to racing at Las Vegas after health scare

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Nearly seven weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a hole in his heart, NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Brian Vickers announced on Wednesday that he has been given medical clearance to return to racing in early March.

Vickers is expected to be back behind the wheel of the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota Camry for the March 8 Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“The doctors gave me a clean bill of health and said I will be better than before,” Vickers said in an MWR media release. “Now all of my focus is getting ready so when I return we are prepared to win races and the championship in my Aaron’s Dream Machine.”

During an examination in early December, it was discovered that Vickers, who has had prior health issues with his heard and blood clots, had suffered another setback.

“I was not feeling well in December, so I went to see Dr. William Downey in Charlotte,” Vickers said. “He discovered my body was rejecting a patch that was surgically placed over a hole in my heart a few years ago. He and Dr. R. Mark Stiegel immediately went to work on correcting the problem.”

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

Shortly after undergoing successful surgery to repair the issue, Vickers issued a statement that he would likely miss several early season races while recovering.

However, with Wednesday’s medical clearance, the North Carolina native will only wind up missing the first two races of 2015: the season-opening Daytona 500 (Feb. 22) and the following week’s race (March 1) at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Team co-owner Michael Waltrip will replace Vickers in the No. 55 at Daytona. Waltrip is a two-time Daytona 500 winner.

The team has not yet announced who will replace Vickers at Atlanta.

Because it is a medical condition, NASCAR issued a statement Wednesday that despite missing the first two races, Vickers would still be eligible to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“With the clearance from his physicians, Brian Vickers has satisfied all necessary NASCAR requirements to resume racing on March 5,” the statement said.

“Further, NASCAR has reviewed the circumstances surrounding his situation and has determined that he will maintain Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup eligibility despite neither entering nor attempting to qualify in the first two championship events, provided he meets all other necessary eligibility requirements.”

This most recent episode marks the third time Vickers, 31, has been sidelined by health issues. The other two occurrences were in 2010 and 2013.

The 2003 Xfinity Series champion, Vickers has made 316 career Sprint Cup starts in his career, with three wins, 29 top-five and 77 top-10 finishes, as well as 12 poles.

As part of that tenure, he’s made 58 starts for MWR, with one win (New Hampshire, July 2013), eight top-five and 19 top-10 finishes, as well as one pole (Talladega, Oct. 2014).

In a note to his fans, Vickers wrote on his Facebook page: “Some great news. Can’t thank everyone who wrote in here enough for your thoughts, prayers and kind words… Very humbling.”

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March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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