Brian Vickers has undergone heart surgery and will miss the start of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, his team Michael Waltrip Racing announced on Monday.
In a team statement, Vickers revealed that it was a result of a complication arising from the original surgery that he underwent in 2010 to correct a hole in the heart. That had contributed to blood clots in his leg and lungs, and forced him to miss most of that season's racing at a time when he was competing with the now-defunct Red Bull Racing team.
Vickers also suffered from a blood clot in 2013 after injuring his ankle in a crash at Bristol Motor Speedway. A boot used to support the join restricted the blood flow and resulted in the clot which left him missing the last four races of that season.
"My previous experiences have given me a very keen understanding of my body," Vickers explained. "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," he continued. "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," he added. "I have faced obstacles before and it has made victory that much sweeter and I know that will be the case again."
"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 MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman.
Given the sudden nature of the development, the team has understandably yet to make any decision about what to do with the #55 entry in Vickers' absence.
"As a race team, MWR has plenty to consider and we will confer with our partners, including Aaron's and Toyota," said Kauffman. "As this is fresh news, we will adjust our future plans as more information becomes available."
Team co-owner Michael Waltrip himself could take over the wheel in Vickers' absence, while other names that have already been mentioned include MWR development driver Brett Moffitt and BK Racing's Alex Bowman as well as Michael McDowell, Reed Sorenson, Cole Whitt, Johnny Sauter or Landon Cassill.
Veteran driver Jeff Burton is also a possibility if he can be coaxed out of retirement. Although focussed on his new carer as a television pundit with the NBC Sports Network covering NASCAR in 2015, the 47-year-old briefly returned to racing as a substitute for Tony Stewart in two races during the summer of 2014.
Kyle Busch undergoes foot surgery
Kyle Busch has also undergone surgery since the end of the Sprint Cup season in 2015, using the off-season to address a recurring source of inflammation in his right foot that has been plaguing the 29-year-old Joe Gibbs Raing driver this season.
"Busch is expected to make a full recovery in time for the start of the 2015 NASCAR season in February," the team said in a news release. With NASCAR having severely curtailed off-season testing for all teams in the championship, the surgery should not have any significant lasting implications for next year's campaign.
Sprint Unlimited format revised
NASCAR announced on Monday that it was to expand the number of drivers eligible to compete in the pre-season Sprint Unlimited exhibition event at Daytona in February.
Previously the event was restricted to those drivers who had claimed a Sprint Cup pole position in the previous 12 months along with past winners of the Unlimited in the past decade. That would have set the field at 17 drivers in total.
However, NASCAR have now confirmed that all 16 drivers who made the Chase in 2014 will also be entered into the race, along with drivers who have previously qualified on pole for the Dayton 500 in the past. The latter condition means that Danica Patrick will now be able to take part along with Martin Truex Jr.
The format of the 75-lap race has not been yet been announced. In the last few years, elements of the competition have been determined by a fan vote.
Jail time for Richmond trespasser
The fan who scaled the catchfence at Richmond International Raceway during September's Sprint Cup race, forcing the race to be placed under caution while authorities brought him back down and placed him under arrest, has been sent to jail for 15 days.
James Dennis was convicted of public drunkenness and disorderly conduct for his actions during the race on September 6. He was fined $100 for being intoxicated in public and faced a year in jail before the case's judge suspended most of his sentence, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch and TV station WWBT.
Darrell Wallace Jr. leaves Joe Gibbs Racing
Joe Gibbs Racing has granted Darrell Wallace Jr. early release from his contract with the team so that the 21-year-old can pursue opportunities with other teams in 2015.
Wallace was the first African-American driver to win a NASCAR national series race when he went to victory lane at Martinsville in October 2013 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. he went on to win three more races in 2014 while on loan from JGR to Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Despite the breakthrough success, JGR was reportedly struggling to find sufficient sponsorship to have him run a full season in the XFINITY Series (formerly Nationwide Series) in 2015. Although the team had funding for 15 races, Wallace decided to bow out and look elsewhere, with Roush Fenway Racing said to be in the lead to land his services.
KBM team owner Kyle Busch has expressed surprise at the lack of forthcoming funding to keep Wallace at JGR. “Darrell Wallace, if he's not the most marketable driver in the truck series, I don't know who else would be,” Busch said. “He's fun. He's engaging. He's witty ... He loves to do anything you want him to do. He's a PR dream.
"We were unsuccessful at selling the guy, his agency was unsuccessful in selling him, JGR has been unsuccessful in selling him. We have three or four sales forces trying to sell Darrell Wallace and we can't. I don't know if it is because of the series or what, but we struck out and I feel really bad for that."
Todd Parrott moves to Richard Childress Racing
Todd Parrott has joined to Richard Childress Racing as the team's competition director for the XFINITY Series, it was announced on Monday.
Parrott was crew chief for Reed Sorenson at Tommy Baldwin Racing in 2014, but was best known for assisting Dale Jarrett to the 1999 Cup title. The 50-year-old has also been to victory lane twice at the Daytona 500 as winning crew chief. However he lost his job at Richard Petty Motorsports in 2013 after failing a random drug test, and needed to complete NASCAR's mandated Road to Recovery program before being reinstated before this year's championship.
"I have known Richard Childress and [team vice president] Mike Dillon for many years and our families go back a long time," Parrott said in an RCR news release. "They already have a solid program and it's now up to me to take the ball and run with it for next year. I'm looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead, winning several races and adding another championship for the organization."