NASCAR

Good Guy Wins

Brian Vickers
Brian Vickers celebrates in Victory Lane.
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Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip — winner of 84 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion — serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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Naturally I don’t have to tell you how thrilled I was to see that No. 55 car roll into Victory Lane Sunday at Loudon. I was thrilled for a number of reasons. Obviously, I was so excited because it’s my brother’s team. It was great for the sponsor, Aaron’s, to get back to Victory Lane. They’ve been a great sponsor in our sport for a long time now.

I really was the most pleased for Brian Vickers and everything he’s had to overcome to get back into racing and back to winning. Michael Waltrip Racing sure is on a roll. Brian has won. Martin Truex Jr. won at Sonoma for long-time sponsor NAPA and now their third car, driven by Clint Boyer is second in the points.

 

Brian Vickers has seen the highs and lows of our sport. He won a Nationwide championship driving for Hendrick Motorsports. He has a couple NASCAR Sprint Cup wins, but then illness took him out of that Red Bull car and the question became would he ever race again?

I talked to Brian a lot about it. He did a lot of soul-searching and a lot of praying. His prayers were answered as he got all healed up and started feeling better. He made his way back slowly getting a part-time ride with my brother. Both last year and this year he has been really fast when he got behind the wheel of the No. 55 Aaron’s Toyota.

So he is getting his career back on track both literally and figuratively. He’s running full time in the Nationwide series for Joe Gibbs Racing. He’s got the No. 55 car duties on the Cup side that he shares with my brother and Mark Martin. More importantly, after Sunday he now has another victory.

I’ve been in this sport it seems my whole life, so trust me when I tell you that very seldom do people get a second chance. That’s what makes Brian’s win Sunday such a feel-good story. What is really cool in my book is the combination of Brian and crew chief Rodney Childers. They have basically known each other forever. Rodney used to build go-carts for Brian when he was a kid. So Sunday was really, really special for Rodney, too.

My brother is very fortunate to have a crew chief the caliber of Rodney in the organization overseeing a car that has three drivers. That’s a huge undertaking to ask of a crew chief. Three drivers – three different driving styles – three different personalities – one crew chief, one car, one team, and yet there they were Sunday taking the checkered flag.

Sunday’s win confirmed what I have thought for awhile now. The folks over at MWR are going to have to take a hard look at putting a full-time driver in that No. 55 Aaron’s car for 2014 and give Rodney and his crew a shot at winning a championship. I’d love nothing more than to see Brian and Rodney work together for a whole season and see what the results would be, because they showed the racing world just how good they can perform on a part-time basis.

Don’t think for a second they lucked into that win, either. They got down a lap. Then they got their lap back. Then they had contact on the track, as did a lot of other cars, but were able to come out on top.

Like I mentioned, there was a lot of contact all day long, but really that’s to be expected on a one-mile flat track like Loudon basically is. When it comes to the situation between Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch, well, I had been actually watching that develop. Ryan had been messing with Kurt a lap or two before the bigger incident. I think Kurt finally lost his patience with Ryan and as we all saw, that didn’t turn out so well.

There were lots of harsh words and ill will between the two after the race. Ironically a lot of the harsh words didn’t come from Kurt, but from his little brother Kyle who stuck up for his brother in the heat of battle. I for one liked seeing that.

The other storyline that came out of Sunday’s race was with Danica. She ran so hard down in the corner and these cars run so much rear brake to help them turn that she ran up on the car ahead of her, slammed on the brakes, which locked the rear brakes up, got the car sideways and shot her car into the side of her boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

With Paul Menard and Jeff Gordon, I got tickled after the race when Gordon thanked Paul for spinning him out. The reason he said that was it got Jeff into the pits for fresh tires and that turned to his advantage there at the end when Jeff was able to come home in 10th spot.

We saw a number of issues like this all day long and actually we saw it Saturday as well in the Nationwide race. Again, it’s just the product of hard racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. It’s a one-mile flat track with fast straightaways and tight, tight turns. Sometimes that is just an ingredient for disaster.

Our points leader Jimmie Johnson, started in the rear of the field Sunday. He didn’t have a winning car but he made the most of his day and came home sixth. That’s pretty amazing when you consider starting in the rear on a track that is already hard to pass on, bad pit selection and having to overcome issues during inspection.

Speaking of that, there were a lot of issues during inspections and not just with the No. 48. When you roll your car into the Room of Doom, as we call it in the garage area, it’s like going into surgery with all the laser technology they put these cars through. Sometimes things aren’t just the way they are supposed to be and who is to say that every time NASCAR’s equipment isn’t always the way it should be?

I felt bad for Tony Stewart, who ran out of gas and finished 26th. It was an even bigger hit because it dropped him out of the Top 10 – he is now 13th. Thankfully he has that one win and currently has the second Wild Card spot. However, Sunday was the kind of day that could have been avoided and truthfully as the races are winding down before the Chase, that No. 14 car simply didn’t need.

I was thrilled for Jeff Burton. He started ninth and finished third. It jumped him four spots in the points to 17th and that team really seems to be coming around right now.

Bobby Labonte was another one I felt bad for. He had a wonderful run going Sunday but had to pit late for fuel and that naturally cost him a good finish. Sunday also saw a great run by Aric Almirola. He started 17th and brought that No. 43 car home in fifth. That also jumped him three spots in the points to 16th.

After all the things we saw Sunday and after the long grind these teams have been on, I am sure they are welcoming this weekend off. Gives everyone a chance to recharge and refocus as we make the run to the Chase. Then we have something unique for the Camping World Truck Series as they are going to race on the dirt at Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway in Ohio.

Then we all head to the hallowed grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s one of my all-time favorite tracks. It was such an honor back in the day to be one of the drivers who was originally selected by NASCAR to participate in that very first tire test there to see how stock cars would handle that big historic track. It was a thrill to race there. It was a thrill to sit on the outside pole my last race there and it’s still a thrill to go watch these drivers race hard all day long for the chance the kiss the bricks when its all said and done.
 

Tagged: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr., Brian Vickers

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