LAS VEGAS – Brian Vickers missed the first two races of the season as he recovered from heart surgery. As he neared his return, he wondered if maybe he was getting back into a car a little too soon.
It was his doctors who picked this weekend at Las Vegas as the target date, but Vickers was willing to hold out a bit longer. He admitted Friday to repeatedly questioning his doctors about coming back this weekend.
"I'm like, 'Are you sure? I'm totally fine waiting as long as you want' and they were like, 'No, no. You're totally good. You'll be fine. Don't worry about it,'" said Vickers, who even offered to go in for a checkup before leaving for Las Vegas. "I want to go racing. It's what I love, but I didn't push them into a decision. It was really their decision."
Vickers had surgery Dec. 13 to repair a hole in his heart because his body was rejecting the artificial patch he received five years ago. Lately, it's been a cycle of comebacks for Vickers, who has now been sidelined three different times for health issues since 2010.
Vickers missed the final five races of the 2013 season because he was placed on blood thinners to treat a blood clot in his right calf. He also missed 25 races during the 2010 season when clots were discovered in his legs and lungs.
During his 2010 absence, he underwent a pair of procedures, one to close a hole in his heart and another to insert a stent into a vein in his left leg. He was private about the heart surgery and didn't address it until a month after the procedure.
The health issues have educated Vickers about his body, and he's said he knew something wasn't right in December. It led to an emergency surgery and concerns he'd never race again. He asked his doctors about his career, and they weren't encouraging.
"I think they were trying to set expectations and they were like, 'It's not looking good,'" he said. "They didn't want to say no, but they were a far cry from yes. They were kind of setting the bar pretty low."
But, if there's one thing Vickers has learned, it's that not being able to race would not ruin his life. During his 2010 issues, Vickers spent a lot of time away from the track doing activities he's never had a chance to do. He has been racing pretty much full-time since he was 17, and he missed his high school graduation in 2002 to run an Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Now 31 and married, he's got a balance to his life that puts racing in perspective.
"It's something I love. It's something over the last 10, and particularly the last five years dealing with everything, I've learned that my love for racing has only increased," he said. "But I've also learned that it's not who I am. It's something I do and it's part of who I am. It's a very special part of who I am and it's something that means the world to me, but it's not who I am. If I can't race, that's OK. Life is going to go on."
Now that he is back, Vickers is eager to produce on the track. He got into his No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota on Friday for the first time since November, and is taking a measured approach to Sunday's race.
"I kind of look at it like a win/win," Vickers said. "If we go out there and we do well, that's great. Even if we don't just being able to get back in a race car again and go 200 (mph) is incredible. No matter what the outcome, I'm happy to be here, back in a race car doing something I love."