It was announced Friday that Brian Vickers would be filling in for Tony Stewart in the Sprint Unlimited as well as the Daytona 500. It’s an exciting prospect for Vickers whose NASCAR career has stalled due to a medical condition that requires him to periodically take blood thinners. It’s also an opportunity that could lead to re-establishing Vickers as a marketable driver.
Vickers said that he had been working with his doctors on a plan that would allow him to race while at the same time protecting him from blood clots.
“It’s unfortunate that this is the car I’m in because that means Tony’s not here,” Vickers said. He went on to say “I’m honored to keep his seat warm until he gets back. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Tony and wish him a quick recovery.”
But his entry into the Sprint Unlimited is troubling.
The Sprint Unlimited is supposed to only be open to drivers who meet specific requirements. Any 2015 Coors Light Pole Award winners, formers winners of the Sprint Unlimited and former Daytona 500 winners who competed full time in 2015 are eligible. The 16 drivers who participated in the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup championship are also eligible with any remaining spots filled based upon 2015 Sprint Cup driver points.
The only problem is that Vickers meets none of those requirements.
NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell explained their decision to allow Vickers to participate on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
“When we looked at it, it’s due to some unforeseen circumstances,” O’Donnell said. “A lot of prep work went into that car and there are a lot of implications for the 14 not being in that race. In this instance, we made the decision to allow the 14 to participate.”
Granted, this is a non-points, exhibition race, which may explain NASCAR’s willingness to bend the rules. Perhaps a better compromise would have been to allow the No. 14 to participate but with the next driver highest in points. Since Sam Hornish Jr. does not have a ride this year, David Ragan and Trevor Bayne are the top two provisional drivers. But, as it stands, neither will get their shot at the Sprint Unlimited this year.