Brian Vickers returned to his No. 83 Red Bull Toyota Sprint Cup car on Monday, turning his first laps since blood clots forced him out of the car last May. Vickers and Red Bull Racing teammate Kasey Kahne are conducting a two-day test session at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Fla.
“Today was just a huge weight off of my shoulders. Not only for myself, but for the guys on the team,” Vickers said. “There were so many rumors, assumptions and speculations about my health and status for 2011, but today hopefully put all of them to rest.”
Vickers started the first 11 races of the 2010 season, but was hospitalized May 12 after experiencing chest pains during a sight-seeing visit to Washington, D.C. Testing revealed blood clots, and he was released and returned to Charlotte, N.C. But the pains resurfaced the next day, and Vickers was admitted to Carolinas Medical Center, where he spent another two days.
During All-Star weekend May 21, Vickers announced he'd miss the remainder of the season while undergoing a lengthy and involved blood-thinning treatment process that made it impossible for him to race for fear that he might be injured in a crash. In July, he had surgery for a hole in his heart, a condition known as May-Thurner syndrome.
In Vickers' absence, five drivers took turns in the No. 83: Reed Sorenson (13 races), Kahne (five), Casey Mears (four), Mattias Ekstrom (two) and Boris Said (1).
“It felt damn good to get back in the car,” he said. “Everything fit. Everything felt right. Everything was just the way I left it last May. Just to fire the car back up was awesome, and then to punch it for the first time was such a great feeling.”
The Red Bull Toyotas got on the track for about two hours before rain interrupted day one at “the Mickyard,” a uniquely shaped one-mile triangle that hosted IndyCar and NASCAR Truck racing in the 1990s, but no longer conducts professional auto races.
Monday was the first step for Vickers in the road back to racing. Step two will come Jan. 20-22 when nearly the entire Sprint Cup field unloads at Daytona International Speedway for three days of Daytona 500 testing.
“We are here to get more seat time for me and so I can back in groove with the road crew,” said Vickers, who later treated his team to a steak dinner in Orlando to celebrate his return. “I don't think we are going to learn anything ground-breaking today, but it's really just a great chance for us all to work together, and the bottom line for me is just to get back in a race car and log some laps.”
Monday also was a big day for Kahne, who underwent surgery on both knees during the off-season.
“Rain stopped us early but still made some laps. Felt great to be back in car," Kahne posted on his Twitter feed. "Red Bull cars are real nice!”