If anyone knows how difficult it is to step out of a racecar like Tony Stewart has done the last three weeks, it’s Brian Vickers.
Instead of being involved in a tragic sprint car incident like Stewart was on Aug. 9, Vickers has had to give up his seat behind the wheel multiple times for various health-related issues. So, the Michael Waltrip Racing driver knows how emotional it can be to get back to racing.
And with NASCAR’s ruling that Stewart is still eligible for the Chase if he were to qualify by winning one of the next two races before the Chase for the Sprint Cup field is set, Vickers said he is encouraged to know he may in the same boat one day, albeit for much different reasons.
"I think it was certainly a rare and tragic situation and I’m glad NASCAR saw the circumstances," he said. "Listen, as someone who has been out of the car several times for medical incidents, I’m happy to know if I was out of the car for some reason that I’d get a chance to get back in the Chase. Last year, a similar thing happened — we won a race and then I was out for medical reasons. Knowing that I’d still be able to be in the Chase is great. There’s a lot of circumstances that I don’t know exactly how they’d handle them. Obviously they’ve set a precedent here with Tony (Stewart).
"One day I’d like to have kids," he added. "Does that mean I get to be at the hospital with my wife if she’s having our first child even if it means missing a race but I can still make the Chase? I think so if that’s the precedent that they’re going to set. As someone who has missed races, for me it’s a good one. Hopefully I never have to miss another one and it’s a non-issue, but I can appreciate and understand where they’re coming from."
Competing in only 25 of a possible 72 races between 2012 and 2013, Vickers was able to find Victory Lane last year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. But he wasn’t eligible to qualify for the Chase because he had declared himself eligible for the Nationwide Series championship at the beginning of the year, knowing he was only going to run a part-time schedule in Cup.
Regardless, he said he can relate to the feeling Stewart must be experiencing by being able to get back in his racecar this weekend.
"Appreciation I think is another emotion that you really feel," said Vickers. "Just the fact that you are able to get back in the car and you’re able to get back in it again. At the end of the day at this level, yeah there’s a lot of parts to this job that it does become a job, it’s work, but at the end of the day we do this because we love it and we love being in the race car and love going fast. I’m so happy to see Tony back in the car. I have so much respect for that guy and we’ve missed him since he’s been away and I can’t wait to get out there and race with him a little bit."
Stewart 10th fastest in first practice
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series had one practice session Friday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and in his first laps back in a Sprint Cup Series car in three weeks, Stewart was 10th fastest. Stewart’s fastest lap came late in the session and was at 189.642 mph.
Prior to the session, Stewart was seen in the garage receiving a hug from teammate Kurt Busch and talking with Busch’s girlfriend Patricia Driscoll.
Not only was this Stewart’s first time back in the car in three weeks, it was also his first time around this track since 2012. The three-time Sprint Cup Series champion was forced to miss last year’s race after badly breaking his leg in a sprint car accident.
During the opening session, Stewart ran a total of 25 laps around the 1.5-mile track, tied with Jamie McMurray for the most of the practice.
For much of the session it was the No. 99 Ford of Carl Edwards that topped the scoring pylon. The three-time Atlanta winner posted a fast lap of 192.855 mph, while Ryan Newman, Marcos Ambrose, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Larson rounded out the top five.
One step closer to the show
This weekend’s event at Atlanta will mark the first Sprint Cup Series start for third-generation racer Ty Dillon.
Piloting the No. 33 Realtree/Rheem Chevrolet, the 22-year-old Nationwide Series rookie is excited to take the next step in his NASCAR career, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Richard Childress, father Mike Dillon, and brother Austin Dillon.
"This is a huge moment for me and my career," said Dillon. "To make my first Sprint Cup Series start in a sport that I’ve been a part of my whole life. I have been going to races here in Atlanta for such a long time it is almost like a second home track to me. It’s so close to my house in North Carolina. This is a dream come true for me and I’m so honored to have Rheem and Realtree on board for this start. I’m looking forward to it. I was able to come test here a couple of weeks ago and the test went really well. Looking forward to hopefully a great debut."
The younger Dillon brother indicated he may attempt to run more Sprint Cup Series races later in the year, but it is "wherever my grandfather feels like he can throw me in and we will have a great opportunity."
The plan to run this weekend’s event came together within just the last few weeks, Dillon said.
"At the beginning of the year, my grandfather sat down with me and wanted to look over the schedule," he said. "We picked out four or five tracks where I felt like I could make my first Cup start and do well. This was one of the tracks on the list. We didn’t really talk about it very much during most of the season, and then things kind of came together. Here recently we got the sponsorship to make things happen. So it all started off with me and him; he had a plan to run me in a Cup race. We sat down and picked a few tracks, and this was one of them. Then within the past couple of weeks, it all came together."
Denny Hamlin has no issue with Kevin Harvick after Bristol
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin clearly showed his displeasure with Kevin Harvick last Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway. Racing for the lead early in the race, Harvick came off Turn 4 and clipped the left rear of Hamlin’s car, sending it nose-first into the inside wall. Hamlin’s car then shot up the track and into the path of Dale Earnhardt Jr., ending both drivers’ night.
After the incident, Hamlin threw his HANS device at Harvick’s car under caution, saying afterward that he was as mad as he could remember.
Despite the HANS-throwing incident, Hamlin told FOX Sports 1 on Friday he has no issues with Harvick, who reached out to apologize shortly after Saturday night’s race.
"I think it was like eight minutes after the checkered flag he reached out to me," Hamlin told Bob Dillner. "Like I said in my interview (at Bristol), Kevin’s a great driver. He knows what he’s doing. He just made a little mistake. We all do it at one point or another. I’ve got no problems at all."
TMNT fast at AMS in NNS
Nationwide Series rookie and Road America winner Chris Buescher was fastest in Friday’s opening practice session at Atlanta. No word if NASCAR checked his No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford for any mutant adjustments, as he was carrying the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles colors for Saturday night’s race.
Buescher’s car was not the only one carrying the "turtles in a half-shell" on his car this weekend, though. Michael McDowell’s No. 95 Sprint Cup car also had the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on board, but McDowell was the only car that failed to qualify for Sunday’s 43-car Cup field.
VIDEO: NASCAR president Mike Helton says that Tony Stewart can still make the 2014 Chase