By AMANDA VINCENT
During a press conference at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway on Friday, Stewart-Haas Racing made official the already somewhat confirmed decision to put Brian Vickers behind the wheel of the No. 14 SHR Chevrolet for Sprint Cup Series Speedweeks at the track, including Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited exhibition race and the Feb. 21 running of the Daytona 500, the first points-paying race of the 2016 season. He’ll be a fill-in at Daytona for Tony Stewart, who sustained a back injury while riding an all-terrain vehicle in a West Coast desert on Jan. 31. Stewart’s return date is undetermined.
Vickers has been sidelined multiple times for health-related issues, primarily blood clots. He last raced at the Sprint Cup level in March of last year. He competed in two Cup races in 2015 before climbing out of the car because of his most recent bout with clots. Vickers received medical clearance from NASCAR on Thursday.
“If I was gonna come back to racing, particularly in Sprint Cup, I wanted to be in a car I was confident could win,” Vickers said. “Unfortunately, this is the car I’m in, because it means Tony’s not here. I can understand what he’s going through, and this whole team. I hate that he’s not here, but I’m honored to keep his seat warm until he gets back.”
Vickers has three race wins at the Sprint Cup level, most recently at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon in 2013. His best Daytona finish is a second-place showing in the 2014 Coke Zero 400.
Vickers’ substitute duties with SHR may extend past Daytona.
“Don’t be surprised to see Brian in the car again, and we may have other drivers,” Stewart-Haas Racing President Brett Frood said.
A Stewart-Haas press release concluded with the statement, “An interim driver for the No. 14 team in the races following Daytona has not been determined.” But a report from FOX Sports puts NASCAR Xfinity Series regular Ty Dillon in Stewart’s No. 14 for races in which Bass Pro Shops will be primary sponsor on the car. BPS is one of Dillon’s primary sponsors on his No. 3 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series, and the outdoor retailer has a long-standing relationship with Dillon’s family, including grandfather and Richard Childress Racing co-owner Richard Childress. Dillon plans to race part-time in the Sprint Cup Series in 2016 for Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing. He plans to drive a car for that team in the Daytona 500.
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