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Vickers Is Done For The Season

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 30 2015
Brian Vickers will miss the rest of the 2015 NASCAR season. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

Brian Vickers will miss the rest of the 2015 NASCAR season. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

Brian Vickers’ star-crossed journey through the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has been dealt another potentially career-ending setback.

Team co-owner Michael Waltrip announced Tuesday that David Ragan will drive the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota Camry in place of Vickers for the remainder of the 2015 Cup season, beginning May 9 at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway.

Vickers, 31, underwent open heart surgery in mid-December to repair an artificial patch that was placed over a hole in his heart in 2010. Vickers was set to contest the full Cup schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing, but surgery forced the Thomasville, N.C., native to miss the season’s first two races. Vickers returned at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 7, but unexpectedly was sidelined two weeks later by recurring blood clots in his lungs.

Waltrip, who drove the No. 55 Aaron’s Toyota in the season-opening Daytona 500, will return to the cockpit at Talladega Superspeedway this weekend. Brett Moffitt has logged six starts in the No. 55 this year, scoring a career-best eighth-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March.

Ragan is 19th in Cup driver points, a position largely earned in the No. 18 Toyota fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing while substituting for the injured Kyle Busch.

“Life has thrown a lot at MWR the first part of this racing season, but our team has stood tall and worked through it,” Waltrip said in a statement. “Our original plans for the No. 55 team have been challenged since December and we felt it was important for our employees and our sponsors to solidify the remainder of the 2015 season.

“The opportunity to bring David Ragan into the team is incredible for a number of reasons. He will bring experience, consistency and a lot of confidence based on how he has been running with our Toyota teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing. He also puts the No. 55 team and Aaron’s right back into the Chase for the Sprint Cup contention, which is a very positive turn of events for that team.”

No timetable has been established for Vickers’ return, and Waltrip indicated the next decisions will belong to Vickers and his medical team.

“There is absolutely no question about Brian Vickers’ ability, but there remains a question of his availability,” Waltrip said. “We are going to remain very close with Brian while he works on his plan to return. We have told him that MWR is here when he has a clear picture about what the future holds, but we don’t need to add any timeline pressures. He is working with a lot of medical advisors and once he has established his plan, we will discuss the next steps.”

Vickers is treating his latest condition via a program of blood thinner medication that will last for three months. Vickers has missed parts of the 2010, 2012 and 2013 seasons because of clots in his legs, heart and lungs. In 318 career starts, Vickers has three wins, 12 poles, 29 top-five and 77 top-10 finishes.

An upbeat Vickers addressed the uncertainty of his future in NASCAR during a news conference at the beginning of the weekend at Vegas.

“It’s (racing) something I love,” said Vickers, the 2003 NASCAR XFINITY Series champion. “It’s something over the last 10 years and my life and particularly the last five years dealing with everything, I’ve learned that my love for racing has only increased _ my love for what I do and how much I appreciate it _ but I’ve also learned that it’s not who I am. It’s something I do and it’s part of who I am. It’s a very special part of who I am and it’s something that means the world to me, but it’s not who I am.

“If I can’t race, that’s OK _ life is going to go on. I think I’ve tried to find balance in my life where, like I said, it’s not who I am. If it doesn’t happen, my life’s not over. There’s still a lot of things to be done and challenges and opportunities and you just kind of keep going.”

Ragan, a two-time Cup race winner who will mark his 300th series start at Talladega, is eager to make his debut for the organization based in Cornelius, N.C.

“The only way I can repay all the people I have to thank for making this happen is to go out and win races and get MWR, Aaron’s and Toyota in the Chase,” said Ragan, a 29-year-old native of Unadilla, Ga. “It’s going to be awesome knowing when I climb in the No. 55 at Kansas that car will be mine the rest of the season. I look forward to working with (teammate) Clint Bowyer, the crew and shop employees at MWR. It’s tough what’s happened to them this year but I hope I can make 2015 something special.”

Meanwhile, Ragan’s move to MWR has created a Cup opening for XFINITY Series regular Chris Buescher in the No. 34 Ford Fusion fielded by Front Row Motorsports.

“We are grateful to David Ragan for his contributions to the growth of Front Row Motorsports and his commitment to our partners over the past three years,” team owner Bob Jenkins said. “He led us on our first trip to Victory Lane, and that’s a moment we’ll never forget. We wish him the best with his new team. We are working on finalizing the driver lineup for the races to follow (Talladega) and will announce those plans soon.”

Waltrip reiterated that Moffitt figures into the future of MWR. “With the limited number of starts Brett has in this industry,” Waltrip said, “he has proven he has the talent to be a fulltime NASCAR Sprint Cup driver and we are still committed to helping him get that opportunity.”

Waltrip, a two-time Daytona 500 champion, will make his second Cup start of the season on Talladega’s high-banked, 2.66-mile trioval. Waltrip finished 26th on the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway trioval in February. In 57 starts at Talladega, Waltrip has recorded one win (September 2003), eight top-five and 16 top-10 finishes. He also has led 233 laps. The Cup races at Talladega on Sunday and Oct. 25 are the only remaining events Waltrip is scheduled to drive this season in the No. 55.

“The car is capable of winning the race and that makes me smile,” Waltrip said. “To head down there with a team led by Billy Scott (crew chief), I know we will have a fast car and have a chance to run up- front. It’s just a great feeling.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 30 2015
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