LOUDON, N.H. – If Brian Vickers didn’t already have a full-time ride at Michael Waltrip Racing in 2014, his performance Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway probably guaranteed it.
Vickers held off challenges from Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch during a green-white-checkered restart to win Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301, his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory since 2009 and the third of his career.
The victory completed a huge comeback for Vickers, who was sidelined in 2010 after being diagnosed with a blood clotting disorder. He returned in 2011 but lost his ride at the end of the season when Red Bull Racing shut down, leading Vickers to accept a part-time ride at MWR sharing the No. 55 with Mark Martin and Michael Waltrip.
In the end, it all worked out.
“It couldn’t have been filled with more trials and tribulations,” Vickers said. “I’ve got to thank Ty (Norris, MWR general manager) for making that phone call and taking a chance and for Rob (Kauffman, team co-owner) and Michael for believing in me.”
Pit strategy was the name of the game late in Sunday’s race. Tony Stewart, who last pitted on lap 203, found himself in the lead and trying to save fuel. Several late-race caution periods helped Stewart save fuel as he tried to keep Kyle Busch behind him.
With 44 laps left Jeff Gordon went for a spin after contact with Paul Menard, setting up a restart with Stewart and Busch holding down the front row. Stewart was able to hold the lead during the restart with 39 laps left while Busch fell into a battle with Aric Almirola for second.
Stewart quickly drove away from the battle for second, which quickly saw Busch clear Almirola as Vickers joined the party. With 20 to go Vickers had caught Busch and began to pressure him for second. One lap later Vickers made his move, taking second and setting his sights on Stewart.
With 15 laps left Vickers closed to the back bumper of Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet. One lap later Vickers moved to the inside of Stewart, taking the lead entering turn one. He quickly built a big gap between himself and Stewart and looked to have the race well in hand, at least until the 12th caution flag of the day waved for debris on the track with five laps left.