NASCAR: Brian Vickers glad to look ahead to racing again after heart surgery

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On his way to a December photo shoot for sponsor Aaron’s, Michael Waltrip Racing driver Brian Vickers noticed something wasn’t right with himself.

It’s a feeling that he’s known all too often during his Sprint Cup career. Vickers has had to contend with multiple health issues, including blood clots in 2010 (left leg, lungs) and again in 2013 (right calf).

But what he endured over this off-season was the scariest experience he’s ever had. Doctors discovered that Vickers’ body was rejecting an artificial patch that had been placed over a hole in his heart in 2010.

“One thing led to another, and the doctors cut me open to make some repairs,” Vickers recalled today in Charlotte during the NASCAR Media Tour about the surgery he received to repair the hole.

“It was a pretty traumatic event obviously, going through that. It was definitely the worst of all the medical issues I’ve had to face.”

Thankfully, Vickers made it through. Now, he’s preparing for his return to competition in March at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after having received medical clearance and also maintaining his Chase eligibility.

For the first two races of the year, boss Michael Waltrip (Daytona 500) and team test driver Brett Moffitt (Atlanta) will drive his No. 55 Toyota Camry.

Today, Vickers looked back on his recovery process, which he said was “painful” and “extreme.” But it wasn’t all somber, as he joked that doctors had actually taken his old heart out and replaced it with a “lion heart” (‘It’s way stronger, way better,’ Vickers said.).

Vickers also recalled his first post-surgery trip out to MWR for its annual Christmas party, where he had to take a flight of stairs up to reach the party on the shop’s second floor. The kicker was that Waltrip had forgotten about the other way to reach the second floor: An elevator.

“It took me 15 minutes to catch my breath, and when we were leaving, [Waltrip] was like, ‘You wanna take the elevator?,'” Vickers said. “I’m like, ‘We could have done that on the way up!'”

Eventually, Vickers got the go-ahead from doctors to start resuming physical activity. He’s now able to do many exercises except those involving his chest since he says his sternum is still growing back together.

As for getting medical clearance to race again, he admitted that he wasn’t expecting it so soon in his recovery. But he’s certainly quite happy about it.

“I think it took all of us, including myself, by surprise when I went back for my last checkup and everything looked great and ahead of schedule, and [the doctors] said, ‘You’ll be clear for Vegas,'” Vickers said. “I said, ‘Are you sure? Shouldn’t we make this for Phoenix or [Auto Club Speedway]?’ ‘Nah, nah, you’re good.'”

“It wasn’t like I was pushing them to get in the car early. I really, really wanted to make sure. As everyone kind of insisted, health comes first and in this decision-making process, it very much did.

“But that’s when they felt very comfortable with me being back in that race car and I can tell you – I can’t be more excited at being back in that race car.”

Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023

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Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.