Vickers Relishes Comeback Win

Brian Vickers

Vickers became the 11 different winner in the last 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at NHMS. (Photo: Getty Images)


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LOUDON, N.H. - The struggles always will be a part of Brian Vickers’ narrative, his past cluttered as much with painful moments as good.

He’s endured the death of close friends Adam Petty and Ricky Hendrick, faced his own mortality with blood clots, and tried to remain relevant in a sport that often brushes by those a step behind.

That he faced challenges Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway seemed the only fitting way to win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup race since Aug. 2009. Rallying from a lap down, overcoming a bounce off the wall and withstanding a green-white-checkered finish, Vickers could finally celebrate more than a moral victory when the checkered flag waved first for him.

Emotions swirled, voices screamed on his radio and competitors tattooed his car with tire marks while shaking their fists - “in a good way,’’ Vickers said - when the race ended. Then it was time to revel while closing a chapter about the last few years that have been so difficult.

The problems started with chest pains and labored breathing in May 2010. He tried to sleep it off and visited a friend in Washington, D.C., the next day. The pain returned. Two doctors advised he go to a hospital. Scans revealed blood clots in his lungs and left leg. His season was over. He returned in 2011 but after Red Bull Racing closed shop, he was without a full-time Cup ride and hasn’t had one since, running select races Mark Martin does not for Michael Waltrip Racing since last season.

“I never will and I don’t want to forget those memories and the things that I learned through those experiences, even though they were difficult and challenging,’’ said a humbled and hoarse Vickers. “But I think at a certain point it is good to shut the door on some things and look forward and move on. It’s one thing to get back in a race car. It’s another thing to have a good day, but it’s a whole another thing to win a race. I think this win, in a lot of ways, ... is very relieving and probably does allow me to live a little bit more in the moment and focus on the future and not so much in the past.

“Ultimately, that’s the reason I came back. What’s to be. Not what has happened.’’

What’s to be remains a question for Vickers. Team owner Michael Waltrip has said he wants Vickers to run full-time in the No. 55 next year, replacing Martin. The question is if the team’s sponsor, Aaron’s, returns and agrees to Vickers as its driver. Winning should help Vickers’ case.

Before Vickers looks too far ahead, it’s OK to look back on a bright summer Sunday in the Northeast. A day that offered so much promise crew chief Rodney Childers confided the night before on Twitter that he didn’t think he’d get much sleep. He was ready for this day to arrive.

When it did, it didn’t go well. Vickers was penalized on lap 75 for removing pit equipment from his pit stall. He had to pass through pit road, causing him to fall a lap behind the leaders. He languished outside the top 25 even after regaining his lap on lap 158.

Using a different pit strategy, he stayed out when others pitted, moving him to fifth on lap 220. The question was if he would have enough fuel.

As the race dragged on, his fiance had to leave to catch a ride to the airport to make sure she was there when Vickers and Denny Hamlin, whose plane they were taking home, arrived.

Then Vickers started moving forward. He was third by lap 250.

Vickers was second with 20 laps to go. Tony Stewart, also gambling on fuel, led. At some point, Vickers’ fiance started to return to the track but was stuck in traffic.

Vickers took the lead from Stewart on lap 287 and seemed headed for the victory when a debris caution slowed the race just before the finish. There would be a green-white-checkered finish.

Vickers restarted on the outside line. Stewart on the inside.

“I've had some fierce battles with Tony over the years,’’ Vickers said. “But through all of that, I feel like we've earned a mutual respect. He's been a friend, a mentor at times, an enemy at times.

“The one thing I knew is that he was going to race me harder than just about anyone else out there, but I also knew that he wasn't going to wreck me.’’

Stewart didn’t. No one got near Vickers as he pulled away for his third career Cup victory. A celebration years in the making was ready to begin. As Vickers did his burnout, his engine shut off. Whether he was out of fuel or it was something else, it mattered little to Vickers. He climbed out of the car and would walk to Victory Lane.

The celebration eventually would include his fiance, Sarah Kensington, who had run there in flip-flops.

This was a moment not to forget or miss.

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