Brian Vickers has admitted to being unsure about his return to the Sprint Cup series at one point, but is thrilled to be making it back in 2011 with the Red Bull Racing team.
The former Nationwide Series champion was diagnosed with blood clots in May of last year and was forced to stop racing in order to get treatment, hoping he would be able to make a full recovery.
Vickers successfully returned to driving his No. 83 Red Bull Toyota on Jan. 10 at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, before taking part in the three-day test at Daytona International Speedway, where he ran all three days making plenty of laps in the draft. Following his testing return, he says he feels at his best after going through a life-changing experience during the months of his treatment.
"Everyone keeps asking me, 'How does it feel to be back?' I guess, it feels damn good," said Vickers following testing at Daytona last week. "You look for all of these words and ways to describe your emotions and your feelings and sometimes there's just nothing to say.
"I wasn't sure if I would ever be back up here talking to you guys about being in the car again, and here I sit. I'm really happy about it. It's been a long year. Last year was a very long year. I'm very excited for 2011. I'm probably at the best place I've ever been personally, professionally, emotionally – and I'm ready to go kick butt!"
Vickers said he hit a low when he returned to the track while still being under treatment, despite feeling great support from the NASCAR community and the fans. He revealed at the time he was struggling emotionally while finding it hard to cope with the fact that he couldn't race.
"My first time back I think I was still dealing with a lot of things and everyone was so supportive – the fans, the media, the team, everybody top to bottom in NASCAR," said Vickers. "So, it was kind of out of sight, out of mind.
"Then the next time back just sitting there on the box trying to be supportive for the team, but it was just tearing me apart inside. I was just a wreck – a complete wreck. My stress was out of the roof, my medicines weren't working, they were all over the place. That was probably when it hit me."
The 27-year-old admits that when he was given the green-light by doctors to resume his racing career he had doubts over making a return. However, it didn't take him long to realize that his place was back behind the wheel.
"There was a point in time there where I didn't know if I was ever coming back," said Vickers. "Not just because of the doctors, but I questioned if I wanted to come back. Maybe it was time to just start a new chapter of my life. Is it worth going back and trying again? What would happen to me emotionally?
"Trust me, once the doctors said, 'OK, we feel pretty good about this and we're good with you going back racing if you want.' It's tough talking to a doctor about risk levels and going back racing and all of this stuff because most doctors would tell you that they'd rather you did not race cars to begin with.
"They're like, 'OK, let's really think about this. You skydive and you race cars at 200 miles an hour and you're asking me about this. Let's address the first problem.' That's kind of their mentality.
"Once they told me I could go back racing – it was funny, for the longest time I just kind of went down this path and I assumed it was a clear-cut decision for me when I had approval, but as some time went on I started thinking to myself, 'Maybe it is time to start a new chapter.'
"You go through a lot of emotional states, I guess...I went through everything you could imagine, but in the end through a lot of traveling, chasing some dreams outside of racing that I always wanted to do and some soul searching and spending time with friends and family I realized that I couldn't not give it another shot."
After more than three years racing alongside less experienced teammates, Vickers is set to compete this season alongside Kasey Kahne at Red Bull Racing. The pair entered the Sprint Cup series full time as rookies back in 2004, and Vickers claims to have a good relationship with him based on mutual respect.
"I've enjoyed working with Kasey," he said. "Kasey and I came in this sport about the same time and we've always had a mutual respect, over 10 years you're always going to have your run-ins here and there, but we sort it out quick and painless. We've always had a good working relationship, even as competitors, so I can't imagine that our partnership as teammates is not going to go well."
Although Vickers is under no restrictions from his doctors and is no longer taking any blood-thinning medicines, he says there are still many unknowns about how he developed his illness.
"There are a lot of questions that are going to go unanswered, and that goes with anything," said Vickers. "My situation is not unique to that. In a lot of ways, there will always remain unanswered questions. Moving forward they feel good with me going back racing. I feel good with me going back racing. I'm pretty excited about it."
Vickers made the Chase for the first time two years ago, before his blood clot diagnosis sidelined him from racing last season. He claimed Red Bull's only Sprint Cup series victory in a points race thus far at Michigan in August of 2009.