Vickers returns to racing at Las Vegas

Las Vegas, NV ( - Three months after he underwent open heart surgery, Brian Vickers is set to make his season debut this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Vickers, the driver of the No. 55 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing in the Sprint Cup Series, has been medically cleared to return to racing.

In December, doctors discovered that his body was rejecting a patch that was surgically placed over a hole in his heart in 2010. The 31-year-old Vickers had corrective surgery that month, forcing him to miss the Feb. 22 season- opening Daytona 500 and last Sunday's race at Atlanta.

Now he's ready to get his season on track.

"It's awesome," Vickers said. "I think that's the best way to describe it. I'm really excited to be back. There are certainly times where I wasn't sure if I was ever going to be back, and then you kind of deal with those emotions, and then all the sudden you're back, and then you have to deal with those emotions. I couldn't be more thrilled about it."

In addition to his cardiac issues, Vickers has suffered from blood clots in the past. Five years ago, he was diagnosed and treated for blood clots in his left leg and both lungs. Vickers was sidelined for a majority of the '10 season.

Then in 2013, Vickers missed part of the season after he was placed on blood- thinning medication to treat a blood clot in his right calf.

"It's tough being out of the car," he said. "It's really tough, and there's a lot of emotions, a lot of challenging emotions kind of to deal with that. I've been at the track the last two weekends with the team, kind of supporting them and being on the box and being on the spotter's stand and being on the tower and just kind of moving around and trying to learn and just pick up little things that could be beneficial in the car. I can tell you it was the last place I wanted to be."

Team co-owner Michael Waltrip drove Vickers's No. 55 car to a 26th-place finish in the Daytona 500, while Brett Moffitt had an impressive eighth-place run at Atlanta. Moffitt is scheduled to drive the No. 34 Ford for Front Row Motorsports at Las Vegas, Phoenix (March 15) and Fontana, California (March 22), while David Ragan continues to be behind the wheel of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in place of the injured Kyle Busch.

"(Moffitt) is a good driver," Vickers said. "I've been working with him now for two or three years kind of in a test team-type capacity. I've seen his potential. He needs experience. I think that it took him a while to figure out in the (Atlanta) race what he wanted and needed and same for the team to kind of get dialed in."

If Vickers were to win any one of the remaining 24 regular season races, it would virtually assure him a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Despite missing the first two races this season, NASCAR has given him a medical exemption for Chase eligibility.

Vickers has won a Sprint Cup race three times during his career, with his most recent victory occurring in July 2013 at New Hampshire. He drove a partial schedule for MWR in the series that year.

"I kind of look at it like a win-win," Vickers said of his return to racing. "If we go out there and do well, that's great. And 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 and happy to be back in a car again and get a chance to do something I love. But I'm an optimist. I think we're going to go out there and do well."

Forty-eight teams are on the entry list for the Kobalt 400.

Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, March 8. Race: Kobalt 400. Site: Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Track: 1.5-mile oval. Start time: 3:30 p.m. ET. Laps: 267. Miles: 400.5. 2014 Winner: Brad Keselowski. Television: FOX. Radio: Performance Racing Network (PRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.