|Vickers a surprise winner at New Hampshire|
|Monday, July 15, 2013 12:12 AM|
LOUDON, N.H. — Stuck in a hospital bed, Brian Vickers wanted to live another day.
Once he recovered, he hungered for a competitive ride.
And once he landed a solid seat, well, Vickers simply had to win.
Even when life tossed obstacles in his path, his determined spirit never waned. After four years of health scares and unemployment put his promising career in doubt, Vickers kept pushing toward the finish line. He got there Sunday as the surprise winner at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
“Coming here and sitting in Victory Lane, just makes it one of the most special events in my life,” Vickers said.
He had plenty of drivers in the series pulling for this comeback. One by one, they saluted Vickers with a wave from the car or a back slap on the way to Victory Lane.
Close friend Jimmie Johnson, a 5-time Cup champion, pumped his fist out the window in pure happiness as if he’d won a sixth title.
Vickers did all he could to savor the unforgettable scene.
“When you have so much love and support around you,” Vickers said, “it makes all the difference in the world.”
Vickers even tried to celebrate with the fans, though the New Hampshire gates wouldn’t open to the grandstands. That’s OK. He had a pretty big mob waiting for him — even his fiancee, who had left the track to catch a ride home, only to reverse course and make it back just in time to greet him.
About the only key cog missing was owner Michael Waltrip. Waltrip and co-owner Rob Kauffman were in Europe this weekend for the 20th annual Goodwood Festival of Speed in England.
London, Loudon. Off by a letter.
Vickers drives a part-time schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing and shares the No. 55 Toyota with Waltrip and Mark Martin. His win made him the No. 1 contender for a full-time ride at MWR in 2014.
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.
After Red Bull Racing shut down after the 2011 season, Vickers hooked on with a limited ride with MWR. He has been driving full-time this season in the Nationwide Series for Joe Gibbs Racing.
With his first checkered flag since his return, he is done looking back.
“That’s why I came back,” he added. “For what’s to be, not what’s happened.”
Kyle Busch was second and Jeff Burton third. Pole winner Brad Keselowski was fourth and Aric Almirola fifth.
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 26th.
Busch and Vickers finished 1-2 in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race. Both drivers had to stretch their fuel and Vickers ran out just as he crossed the finish line.
He was in a similar spot again down the stretch a race later. He had just enough to zip past Stewart with 13 laps left and then pull away in the green-white-checkered finish. He didn’t run out until it was time for the celebratory burnout.
Stewart wasn’t so lucky a week after he finished second at Daytona.
Johnson, who won at Daytona, was mired in last place for the first time in his career after his No. 48 Chevrolet flunked post-qualifying inspection. No big deal. The points leader made quick work through the back of the field and worked his way up to the front for most of the race.
He easily breezed past 71-year-old Morgan Shepherd, the oldest driver to start a race in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series.
Kurt Busch led a race-high 102 laps before he connected with Ryan Newman to end his shot at his first victory of the season. Off the restart, Danica Patrick was involved in a 3-car wreck that included boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Vickers survived it all 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.
He received the clean bill of health, the ride and the victory.
Scott Dixon sweeps IndyCar’s Toronto doubleheader
TORONTO — Scott Dixon went into Pocono Raceway a week ago ranked seventh in the IndyCar standings and approaching the 1-year mark on his last victory.
My, what a difference a week makes.
Dixon snapped his slump with a win at Pocono, then pulled off a weekend sweep Sunday of the doubleheader event at Toronto.
Three wins in seven days made Dixon the winningest active driver in IndyCar but more importantly thrust him into the heart of the championship race. With six races remaining, he’s vaulted over the last week five spots in the standings to second and trails championship leader Helio Castroneves by 29 points.
“We’re here for the points. It’s been a hell of a swing over a 7-day period,” Dixon said. “It’s nice to put a little pressure on Helio and hopefully we can keep that going.”
Next up for IndyCar? An Aug. 4 race at Mid-Ohio, where Dixon is the defending race winner. Dixon isn’t thinking about a second series championship just yet — he instead wants to focus on finding the same consistency Castroneves has used to take control of the points race.
Castroneves, who finished second to Dixon on Sunday, isn’t giving up and doesn’t view Dixon as any bigger of a threat than he did defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was second in the standings until this weekend.
“Both are champions … they’ve been there,” Castroneves said. “We just got to keep focused on our work. I’m not worried less or more because it’s Scott. The same thing was with Ryan. They’re both great teams. But I trust my guys. I know we have the best equipment, the best guys out there. We know what we are capable of; that’s what we’re focused on at this point.”
But the 3-time Indianapolis 500 winner admitted Sunday he desperately wants his first series championship.
Dixon was barely challenged at Exhibition Place, needing to pull off two late restarts to preserve what was otherwise an easy Sunday drive.
The win was the 32nd of his career,and moved Dixon into sole possession of seventh on the all-time wins list. His victory Saturday moved him into a tie with teammate Dario Franchitti, Sebastien Bourdais and Paul Tracy but the 32-year-old New Zealander is on the hunt for much more.
His sweep of the Toronto doubleheader also earned Dixon a $100,000 bonus from IndyCar sponsor Sonax.
Bourdais was third for his second podium finish of the weekend after not finishing in the top three in American open-wheel since 2007. On Saturday, his second-place trophy slipped off its pedestal and shattered as he was presented with it on the podium. Sunday was a successful handoff as Bourdais picked up the trophy without a pedestal.
Bourdais managed his finish without having a single push-to-pass to rely on inside his car and passed Will Power on the final restart with three laps remaining to grab his podium finish.
Toronto native James Hinchcliffe had a rough weekend — an issue with his throttle prevented him from starting the race with the rest of the field. He finished 21st, four laps behind the leaders.
Carlos Munoz, who got a call from Panther Racing late Saturday night to replace Ryan Briscoe because Briscoe broke his right wrist, finished 17th. It was the second IndyCar race of the 21-year-old Colombian’s career, first on a road course.
Franchitti, who had third place stripped of him Saturday and then restored after a penalty, was fourth as Target Chip Ganassi Racing has seemed to turn itself around over the last week. Winless until Pocono, Dixon and Franchitti are formidable threats again.
E.J. Viso was fifth and the highest finishing Andretti Autosport driver after defending series champion Hunter-Reay was involved in an accident on the final restart with Power that took both Hunter-Reay and Power out of contention for third place.
Charlie Kimball was sixth as Ganassi’s three drivers claimed three of the top six spots.
Mike Conway, in a return for Dale Coyne Racing after winning at Detroit in June, was seventh and followed by teammate Justin Wilson. Marco Andretti and Canadian driver Alex Tagliani rounded out the top 10.