NASCAR

Vickers stuns with New Hampshire win

FOX Sports TOM JENSEN
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Brian Vickers, a part-time driver for Michael Waltrip Racing, shocked the field in Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, winning his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in four years.

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Vickers passed Tony Stewart with 16 laps to go to take his first and only lead of the day, but it was all he needed to find Victory Lane.

The emotional victory was the first in 75 starts for Vickers, dating back to Michigan in August 2009, and only his third in 271 career Sprint Cup races. Vickers is driving the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota part time this year and is expected to replace fellow part-timer Mark Martin in the No. 55 MWR entry next year.

Vickers missed most of the 2010 season with life-threatening blood clots, and has fought to get back in the sport since.

“I couldn’t have been through more trials and tribulations,” said Vickers.

This victory should go a long way to securing his ride next season with MWR.

“Nothing’s a guarantee in life,” said Vickers. “I learned that the hard way. Even when you think it’s done, it’s not done, but it definitely goes a long way.”

Kyle Busch led 54 of 303 laps and finished second in his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, followed by the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Jeff Burton, Brad Keselowski and Aric Almirola.

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Tony Stewart ran out of gas on the last lap and finished 26th.

“I think we were the fastest car here today,” said Busch. “… I guess I burn the front tires off of it when we’re here. I don’t know what the deal is.”

It was a chaotic afternoon at the 1.058-mile New England oval, especially in the second half of the race.

Keselowski started from the pole and led the first 11 laps, but after that it became a show of strength by brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch.

At the one-third mark of the race, Kurt Busch led Matt Kenseth by 1.169 seconds, with Kyle Busch third ahead of Jeff Gordon and Keselowski.

On Lap 123, a caution for a tire failure on Denny Hamlin’s Toyota brought out the first in a long series of strategic moves of the race, with some leaders opting for four tires and others two only.

Kenseth took two tires and won the race off pit road ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Keselowski, Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya, Carl Edwards and Kurt and Kyle Busch.

At the halfway point, Kenseth led Keselowski, while Vickers wasn’t even up into the top 20 yet.

Another caution flew on Lap 156, this one for debris in Turn 3. Because they had taken four tires earlier, the Busch brothers were able to get away with just two this time, with Kurt coming out first and Kyle third, with Stewart sandwiched between them, having taken only two left-side tires.

Kenseth, meanwhile, took four fresh tires and came out 14th. All 13 cars ahead of Kenseth took just two tires or no tires.

Once out in front again, Kurt Busch used clean air to his advantage, opening a lead of 1.763 seconds over Burton on Lap 180. But on Lap 203, someone threw a water bottle on the track, bringing the yellow flag out again, with more tire strategy in play this time.

Stewart took two right-side tires and went out in the lead, ahead of Burton. Kurt Busch took four and came out 11th. But Busch got hung up back in traffic and struggled to move near the front.

Out front, Stewart had no such troubles, with clean air on the nose proving to be a valuable ally.

On Lap 218, though, Stewart’s teammate, Danica Patrick, made contact with AJ Allmendinger and spun in Turn 2 to send the caution out yet again.

This time, it was a real head scratcher, as Stewart didn’t pit at all, while all the top-10 cars behind him did. But this proved to be the break Vickers needed, as he stayed out on track, too, restarting fifth and getting the critical track position he would need to win.

Then came a major turning point: On Lap 225, Kurt Busch, Kenseth and Ryan Newman were racing for eighth place when they made contact in Turn 2, with Busch and Newman getting the worst of it. Significantly, the dominant car driver of the day was now out of contention to win.

Stewart held sway out front as the laps wound down, but Kyle Busch moved to challenge for the lead as Stewart wondered if he’d have enough fuel to make it to the end of the race.

By now, tempers were fraying on the track, and on Lap 258, Jeff Gordon went around after being tagged by Paul Menard and sending the track to yellow-flag conditions again.

With 19 laps to go, Vickers passed Kyle Busch for second place and set off in hot pursuit of Stewart. And it didn’t take long, with Vickers taking his first lead of the race on Lap 287.

Vickers got a scare with five laps to go, when a caution waved for debris. But Vickers was perfect on the restart, while Stewart ran out of fuel and finished 26th.

Tagged: Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Michael Waltrip, Brian Vickers, Brad Keselowski

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