SURPRISE WINNER AT LOUDON
Brian Vickers tried to celebrate with the fans after his surprise win but the New Hampshire gates wouldn't open to the grandstands (photo courtesy: Patrick Smith, GETTY IMAGES SPORT)
After four years of health scares and infrequent employment put his promising career in doubt, Brian Vickers kept pushing toward the finish line. He got there Sunday as the surprise winner in New Hampshire.
"Coming here and sitting in Victory Lane, just makes it one of the most special events in my life," Vickers said.
Vickers drives a part-time schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing and shares the No. 55 car with Waltrip and Mark Martin. His win made him the No. 1 contender for a full-time ride at MWR in 2014.
Vickers charged to the front in the closing laps… First, passing Kyle Busch for second place and then tracking down race leader Tony Stewart. Vickers took his first – and only – lead of the day less than twenty miles from the finish and stayed in front the rest of the way to claim his third career win and first in nearly four years.
Vickers snapped a 75-race winless streak and hadn't won since the August 2009 race at Michigan. He won his first career Cup race in August 2006 at Talladega Superspeedway. Vickers made the Chase For The Sprint Cup championship in 2009, only to be sidelined most of the next season with blood clots. He had two procedures to close a hole in his heart and insert a stent into a vein in his left leg.
Sunday was just his eighth start of the year and he made the most of it, holding off runner-up Busch by a half-second coming out of an overtime restart that took the race one lap past its scheduled distance.
Jimmie Johnson brushed off his 43rd-place start to finish sixth. Tony Stewart was running inside the top 10 at the final caution until he ran out of fuel and plummeted to a 26th-place Johnson, who won at Daytona, was mired in last place for the first time in his career after his No. 48 car failed post-qualifying inspection. The points leader made quick work of the back of the field and passed 37 cars by race-end.
“It was tough,” said Johnson. “It wasn’t easy by any means. You had to make quick work of people on the restarts and then we all kind of fell in line.”
Johnson’s points lead grew to 56 points ahead of Clint Bowyer with just seven races remaining before the post-season Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup begins. The Chase will consist of the Top 10 drivers in points plus the two drivers from 11th to 20th with the most wins after Race 26. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17.
Defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Brad Keselowski, finished fourth at Loudon.
While it was far from dominant or even impressive, it was no less a huge performance for the defending champion. Keselowski has struggled most of the spring and early summer, but he put those demons to rest with a great finish at the “Magic Mile.”
He led 13 laps and kept a top 10 presence for most of the 301 miles. It was the Penske Racing star's sixth Top-5 finish of the season and only second Top 5 in the last 14 races. He revived his championship hopes and leaped four spots in the overall driver standings to ninth-place.
“We fought hard all day and came home with a fourth so that was a decent day,” Keselowski said. “It was a decent day for the Miller Lite Ford Fusion; we just needed a little bit more to win.”
Kurt Busch, who started on the front row alongside Keselowski, led a race-high 102 laps but finished 31st after he was caught up in a four-car crash involving Ryan Newman to end his shot at his first victory of the season. Kurt Busch did not blame Newman for the accident, saying that he got hit from behind by Matt Kenseth.
But Kyle Busch, who finished second, placed the blame squarely on Newman, calling him an “idiot” and an “ogre.”
"The 78 (of Kurt Busch) was good. I really hated that Kurt got tore up,” Kyle told a group of reporters, according to Sirius/XM. “I felt like he had the best car here today … and was proud of them guys but, man, just stupidity.
“I mean, Ryan Newman's the biggest stupid idiot out here and he's a big ogre and can do whatever he wants because he can probably kick anybody's butt. So no sense in getting in a fight with him, but glad he's out of a job."
Vickers survived the wrecks and green-white-checker finish to win for the third time in 271 Sprint Cup races.
He thanked the MWR team for "believing in me and giving me a second chance."
But he wants more. With a full 36-race schedule, Vickers said there is one more check he needs to put in his box.
"I feel like I can win a championship with this team," he said. "That's our goal."
Next up for the Sprint Cup drivers is Indianapolis on Sunday, July 28 (1 p.m. EDT, ESPN, Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 90)—Race 20 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 15-17). The Chase will consist of the Top 10 drivers in points plus the two drivers from 11th to 20th with the most wins after Race 26. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17.