FONTANA, Calif. — One year ago this week, Brian Vickers paced around his Southern California hotel room until he accepted the realization that his racing career was about to be interrupted by another blood clot scare.
He returned to Fontana on Friday with a good seat in a fast car and plenty of optimism about his racing future.
"I've never been the kind of guy to give up, and by no means was I giving up then, but I certainly didn't think I'd be sitting here (now)," Vickers said. "I wasn't sure what the future held."
Vickers will start 24th in today's Auto Club 400 in his third race this season subbing for Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Chevrolet. Vickers and Ty Dillon share the seat as Stewart heals from an injured back sustained in an offseason dirt buggy crash.
But even a part-time job with Stewart-Haas Racing is a joy for a veteran driver who ran only two races last year before his third serious bout with blood clots sidelined him for the season.
"As much as I want to race this car as long as I can, because it's a great team and a great car and a great opportunity, I really want to see Tony back in it, because I've been in his shoes," Vickers said.
Vickers, 32, missed races in 2010, 2013 and 2015 because of blood clots; blood-thinning medication would make it difficult to stop his bleeding in a serious wreck. Vickers had surgery in 2010 to fix a hole in his heart and another procedure in 2014 after his body began to reject the patch.
"It's been a challenging five, six years for me," Vickers said. "But in a weird way, I'm very thankful for those experiences. I've grown a lot as a person, and a lot of good things have come from it."