DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Brian Vickers might have been more easily found on TV this week pitching a blood-thinning drug instead of practicing for the Daytona 500.
His ubiquitous commercial — which also features Miami Heat star Chris Bosh and golfer Arnold Palmer — was about the only way Vickers stayed in the spotlight for most of the last year.
Bosh is back from his blood clot scare and will play in Sunday's All-Star game.
Vickers is ready for a comeback from his own health woes, too. His once promising career derailed by recurring blood clots, Vickers will drive the No. 14 Chevrolet in the Daytona 500 for Stewart-Haas Racing. Tony Stewart is sidelined indefinitely with a fractured vertebra.
Vickers has no promises of another start. Yet after missing 34 races last season, he will gladly take a seat in NASCAR's biggest race.
"I wasn't sure if I would ever be in the Daytona 500 again," Vickers said Friday at Daytona International Speedway. "Here I am."
Vickers was medically cleared to race this week. He can't compete while being treated for the clots because the blood thinners increase his risk of serious internal bleeding if he is hurt in a crash. He worked with doctors for a year to find the right plan that allows him to race safely and keep him protected from clots.
"I wasn't sure if I'd ever race again," he said.
The 32-year-old Vickers has three wins in 318 career Sprint Cup starts, but only raced a full schedule twice since 2009. Vickers is paired with rookie crew chief Michael Bugarewicz for Speedweeks.
"We'll be well prepared by the time we get to the 500," Bugarewicz said.
Vickers was picked in part because of his success at restrictor-plate tracks. His first career Cup victory came in 2006 at Talladega Superspeedway. He finished second in 2014 in the July race at Daytona and has made nine career starts in the Daytona 500.
Stewart, 0 for 17 in the Daytona 500, was hurt riding an all-terrain vehicle in the desert in California last week. Stewart hasn't won a race since 2013 and had only three top-10 finishes last season. Stewart still had a Daytona presence in absentia — he used the live-streaming app Periscope to answer fan questions as he walked on a treadmill.
"It's unfortunate that this is the car I'm in because it means Tony's not here," Vickers said. "I can understand what he's going through, unfortunately."
Vickers has been sidelined four times for health issues since 2010.
He 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 looking forward to last season, but surgery in December 2014 to repair a hole in his heart sidelined him for the first two races. He needed the surgery because his body was rejecting the artificial patch he received five years prior.
He was able to run only two races before blood clots returned, and the need for blood thinners sidelined him the rest of the year.
Vickers said his attention had turned to other projects during his time off and only wanted to return to NASCAR if he could find a ride in a "winning car." SHR has not committed to any drivers beyond Daytona.
"We've got multiple partners and different considerations with respective sponsors," SHR president Brett Frood said. "Don't be surprised to see Brian in the car, and we also might have other drivers."