Brian Vickers back behind the wheel

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Brian Vickers returned behind the wheel of a Sprint Cup car for the first time Monday since being diagnosed with blood clots in May.

"Today was just a huge weight off of my shoulders, not only for myself but for the guys on the team,'' Vickers said after the first of a two-day test with Red Bull Racing teammate Kasey Kahne at Disney Speedway in Orlando. "There were so many rumors, assumptions and speculations about my health and status for 2011, but today hopefully put all of them to rest.''

Vickers missed the final 25 races last season after it was determined he had multiple blood clots in his veins, including one in his left leg and another around his lungs, before the May 16 race at Dover. Doctors later discovered a hole between the right and left atrium in Vickers' heart, as well as May-Thurner Syndrone, a rare condition that puts a patient at risk of more blood clots and possible stroke.

In July, Vickers underwent surgery to repair the hole and had a stent placed in a vein in his left leg.

Vickers announced in September he had been medically cleared to return as soon as he completed a six-month program that required him to take blood thinners.

"It felt damn good to get back in the car,'' Vickers said. "Everything fit. Everything felt right. Everything was just the way I left it last May. Just to fire the car back up was awesome, and then to punch it for the first time was such a great feeling.''

This was Vickers' first step in preparing for the season-opening Daytona 500 in February.

"We are here to get more seat time for me and so I can back in groove with the road crew,'' Vickers said. "I don't think we are going to learn anything ground-breaking today, but it's really just a great chance for us all to work together, and the bottom line for me is just to get back in a race car and log some laps.''

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.