Michael Waltrip Racing turns to 22-year-old in relief role CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Brett Moffitt , who made his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in 2014, will drive the No. 55 Aaron's Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 1 as Brian Vickers recuperates from offseason heart surgery. Owner Michael Waltrip made the announcement Tuesday during his team's stop on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour. "He was the driver that everybody at Michael Waltrip Racing wanted to be in that car at Atlanta," Waltrip said. "They believe in him." Moffitt said he learned of his appointment to the No. 55 Toyota two weeks ago, making it exceedingly difficult to keep his fill-in role a secret. "It was a stressful wait to find out that I was going to be in the car, that's for sure," Moffitt said. "I obviously wanted this opportunity really bad and I'm thankful for it." In seven Sprint Cup starts last season, the best start and finish for the 22-year-old native of Grimes, Iowa and former NASCAR Next driver and K&N Pro Series East race winner came in his debut on June 1 at Dover International Speedway when he began the race in 18th and finished 22nd. Though he said he has been enjoying his time as a developmental driver in the MWR system, Moffitt said he was continuing to explore options -- in any of NASCAR's three national series -- that would allow him to race on a more consistent basis. "I'm very happy with MWR. They're very supportive of me -- have been since 2011," Moffitt said. "They gave me the first opportunity to test a Cup car, they gave me the first opportunity to race one, so they've been huge supporters of my career and I wouldn't be where I am without them, that's for sure. But at the same time, I need to be in a race car more often and they've been willing to work with me on that, and they said hey, if you find an opportunity, we're not going to hold you back from it." Waltrip agreed: "We'll let Brett do anything he wants to do in order to get laps so that he can continue to mature as a race car driver. We believe in Brett, he's our guy, but if we can loan him out and he can race somewhere else that would make me happy." Waltrip will drive the No. 55 Toyota in the Daytona 500 on Feb. 22 (1 p.m. ET, FOX) as he attempts to win his third Great American Race. Despite missing the first two races of the season, Vickers received NASCAR's blessing to run for the Sprint Cup Series championship provided he meets all other requirements for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. He will return to his ride at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the third race of the year on March 8. Last month, doctors discovered Vickers' body rejected a patch that was placed over a hole in his heart. They alleviated the problem and gave him clearance to race just three months after the corrective heart surgery. "They took my heart out and replaced it with a lion heart," Vickers joked on Tuesday. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Brian Vickers talks about making 2015 debut at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after having heart surgery.
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MWR driver will be Chase eligible even as he misses opening two races Michael Waltrip Racing announced Wednesday that Brian Vickers has received medical clearance to return to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition in early March. Vickers , a three-time winner in NASCAR's top division, is scheduled to return to MWR's No. 55 Toyota in time for the third race of the season, March 8 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway . Vickers underwent heart surgery in mid-December, terming the procedure "a temporary setback" that would force him to miss the start of the season. "The doctors gave me a clean bill of health and said I will be better than before," Vickers said Wednesday in a release provided by the team. "The advancements in modern medicine and surgical procedures are amazing and I have to thank my doctors at the Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute and Carolinas Medical Center for their extraordinary care. I have literally put my life in their hands twice and I cannot begin to express my level of gratitude." In the interim, MWR announced that team owner Michael Waltrip will drive the No. 55 in the season-opening Daytona 500 . The team said it would announce a substitute driver for the second race of the season -- March 1 at Atlanta Motor Speedway -- at a later date. Moments after the MWR announcement, Steve O'Donnell -- NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer -- announced that despite the two-race absence Vickers would remain eligible for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason if he meets all other playoff requirements. It's the same exemption that was extended to drivers Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart when they missed regular-season events in 2014, the first year of the new Chase format. Hamlin won at Talladega in the spring to make the Chase. "With the clearance from his physicians, Brian Vickers has satisfied all necessary NASCAR requirements to resume racing on March 5," O'Donnell said in a statement released by NASCAR. "Further, NASCAR has reviewed the circumstances surrounding his situation and has determined that he will maintain Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup eligibility despite neither entering nor attempting to qualify in the first two championship events, provided he meets all other necessary eligibility requirements." The medical leave is the third that Vickers , 31, has endured since joining the Sprint Cup circuit full-time in 2004. He missed the final 25 races of the 2010 season after treatment for blood clots and surgery to repair a hole in his heart. A recurrence of clots in his right calf forced him back on blood thinners and caused him to end his part-time 2013 campaign with five races left in the season. Last December, Vickers said he was feeling ill and went to his team of doctors for an evaluation. He underwent surgery Dec. 13 after tests revealed that his body was rejecting the artificial patch placed over the hole in his heart in 2010. Vickers , who joined the Waltrip organization in 2012, said two days after surgery that he would need "plenty of time, rest and rehab," before returning to competition. The time frame wound up being roughly three months. "Now all of my focus is getting ready so when I return we are prepared to win races and the championship in my Aaron's Dream Machine," Vickers said. All three of Vickers' wins at the sport's highest level have come with different teams. Vickers recorded his first victory in the fall of 2006 at Talladega Superspeedway with Hendrick Motorsports , infamously clearing Dale Earnhardt Jr . and teammate Jimmie Johnson out of first and second place to take the checkers. Vickers , the 2003 champion of what is now the NASCAR XFINITY Series, also won from the pole position in August 2009 at Michigan International Speedway for the former Red Bull Racing team. In July 2013, he scored his first Sprint Cup victory since his lengthy medical leave and his only victory for MWR at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . Waltrip, a two-time winner of NASCAR's most prestigious race, has dialed back his competition schedule in recent years to mostly accommodate restrictor-plate races (Daytona, Talladega) and competitive dancing. Waltrip, 51, is a veteran of 778 starts in NASCAR's premier series and also a fixture in FOX broadcasts of stock-car events. He won the Daytona 500 in 2001 and 2003. So thankful @BrianLVickers is going to be back soon. I'll keep your seat warm bud. @DISupdates #DAYTONA500 @AaronsSports @ToyotaRacing — Michael Waltrip (@mw55) January 21, 2015 FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Brian Vickers talk about being ready for the 2015 NASCAR season to begin.
Michael Waltrip Racing driver had surgery to repair a hole in his heart Brian Vickers will sit out the early portions of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season because of health issues, his Michael Waltrip Racing team announced Monday afternoon. In a statement released by the team, Vickers said he had surgery Saturday to repair a patch covering a hole in his heart. Complications from blood clots have sidelined the 31-year-old driver twice in his career -- for most of the 2010 season and for the latter stages of his part-time schedule in 2013. "First, I want to thank everyone for their sincere support," Vickers said in a statement. "I have faced obstacles before and it has made victory that much sweeter and I know that will be the case again. "My previous experiences have given me a very keen understanding of my body. Late last week, I knew something wasn't right, so I went to the hospital to be checked out. Following several tests, it was discovered that my body was rejecting an artificial patch that was inserted in 2010 to fix a hole in my heart. Saturday, I had to have corrective surgery to repair the hole and now I am beginning the recovery process. I will need plenty of time, rest and rehab but this temporary setback will not stop me from pursuing my dream of becoming a NASCAR Sprint Cup champion." Michael Waltrip Racing did not mention a specific length of time that Vickers would be out of the cockpit. The team release also didn't specify a potential substitute driver for the No. 55 Toyota. " Brian has been a part of the MWR family since 2012 and our thoughts today are with Brian , his wife Sarah and the Vickers family," said Rob Kauffman, the team's co-owner with Michael Waltrip . "As a race team, MWR has plenty to consider and we will confer with our partners, including Aaron’s and Toyota. As this is fresh news, we will adjust our future plans as more information becomes available." Vickers made his first start in NASCAR's premier series in 2003, the year he won the championship in what will become the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2015. Vickers has three victories in NASCAR's top division, his most recent coming with Waltrip's team at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July 2013. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Highlighting the driver star power and authentic story of Brian Vickers , who shares his story of battling blood clots and how Xeralto helped him get back to racing. - Heather Brigham, Director
Four drivers take part in test at Auto Club Speedway RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today Four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams are taking part in a 2015 Goodyear Tire test at Auto Club Speedway that started Tuesday and continued Wednesday. Trevor Bayne (No. 6 Ford), Kyle Larson (No. 42 Chevrolet), Brian Vickers (No. 55 Toyota) and Martin Truex Jr . (No. 78 Chevrolet) were the drivers that piloted setups at the 2-mile track in California. The test was an opportunity to get ahead of 2015 changes. For Vickers , it also offered a chance to drive the new 2015 Toyota Camry that was unveiled at Charlotte earlier this month . "It was good to get some time behind the wheel of the 2015 Camry," Vickers said in a team release. "We brought a lot of engineers from MWR and Toyota Racing Development to Fontana to work on the car. Testing is where we learn what the Goodyear tires, our car and engine like and don't like. I enjoy the science behind testing. The more you learn in testing the better you will be in the race. With the reduction in testing planned for next season, days like this are very valuable. So far I love what I see with the new Camry. It looks good and drives good." As part of the 2015 rules package for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, there is a ban on private testing by teams. Organizations will only be able to participate in NASCAR/Goodyear tests. As for how the test went, Auto Club Speedway posted a video of Vickers out on the track on Tuesday. You can watch it below. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Changes include horsepower reduction, ban on team-faciliated testing Photo courtesy of Hendrick Motorsports MORE: Official NASCAR release " Horsepower reduction highlights changes " Fast facts RELATED: Follow your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize CONCORD, N.C. – It's the time of year when Jimmie Johnson typically is running roughshod over the competition, so it really wasn't surprising to find the Hendrick Motorsports driver guiding a World War II tank over two automobiles in the infield at Charlotte Motor Speedway Tuesday afternoon. The event was to promote next month's Bank of America 500 (October 11, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC) at CMS, and a special "Let the Troops Race" program. Johnson's appearance took place shortly before NASCAR officials unveiled the sanctioning body's 2015 rules package, which includes among other things a reduction in horsepower and down force as well as a ban on team-faciliated private testing. As a six-time Sprint Cup champion, Johnson was the perfect sounding board to ask about the changes. "In one respect it's great," Johnson said of the testing ban. "We don't have to spend more time away from home (to) go testing. As long as you're in great shape, you're going to be happy with that rule." But, he added, HMS, which includes drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne as well as Johnson, has been one to utilize other facilities often in an attempt to remain competitive. Now, he said, such on-track information will have to be obtained at the track leading into a race weekend. "We've been one that has used Nashville and a lot of other tracks to advance our cars," he said. "We’re going to have to do it the old fashioned way, at the track. Use practice sessions as test sessions and also fall back on our tools and instruments that we have in-house at Hendrick Motorsports." Others also chimed in Tuesday once the '15 rules were announced. Michael Waltrip Racing 's Brian Vickers was quoted in his team's weekly pre-race release as saying less down force, which will be obtained in part by a reduction in the height of the rear spoiler on the car, "should make the driver a greater part of the success equation." "There is a ton to absorb with the announcement today, but I think all of the changes are in the right direction," Vickers said. "The testing ban is the right decision. It saves car owners some money and increases the quality of life for all the crew that don't get to spend a lot of time with their family." Doug Yates, CEO of Roush Yates Engines, said changes to the motors would mean "a lot of work ahead." To drop horsepower from its current 850 range to the NASCAR target of 725, the use of tapered spacers such as those currently found in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series will be implemented. For Daytona and Talladega, restrictor plates will continue to be used to control speeds. "The engine configuration as we know it is going to change considerably and what that means is a different camshaft," Yates said. "They're going from flat tappet to roller lifter, which is a step in the right direction for longevity, but as far as the cam design, the cylinder head, intake manifold and exhaust system – all of those things that are related to air-flow – is going to have to be developed and tested over the winter to have a package that's ready to go race next March in Atlanta. "At the same time, they're reducing the horsepower target 125 and they’re also reducing the RPM from 9,500 today to 9,000 RPM going forward, so there are a lot of changes and a lot of work ahead." Back at CMS, Johnson was asked about constant changes to rules and if perhaps NASCAR should leave well enough alone for now. "It's debatable," he said. "I was in a great conversation with (Clint) Bowyer … he brought up a good point. Every time there is change, there is more competition. When the rules sit still for a long period of time, (competition on the track) kind of falls into a follow-the-leader type of event. With more change, there will be that race again to find out who can figure out the mousetrap first. "I'm not against that. And at the end of the day, if the cars really have a lot of give-up in them and they are abusing tires and wearing tires out, (then) that's going to create the best racing for us.” MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Brian Vickers cut down a left front tire early in practice forcing him to a backup car in Richmond.