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, Vickers simply had to win.
Even when life tossed obstacles in Vickers’ path, his 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 winner at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H.
“Coming here and sitting in Victory Lane, just makes it one of the most special events in my life,” he said.
He had plenty of drivers in the series pulling for him.
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, who finished sixth, pumped his fist out the window as if he had just won a sixth Sprint Cup title.
“When you have so much love and support around you,” Vickers said, “it makes all the difference in the world.”
Vickers tried to celebrate with the fans, although the gates wouldn’t open to the grandstands. But he had a pretty big mob waiting for him — even his fiancée, who had left the track to catch a ride home, only to reverse course and make it back just in time to greet him.
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.
“Wins help a lot of business issues. So this was a great day for that,” MWR general manager Ty Norris said. “He’s been our focus. We would love to have him in that car.”
Vickers snapped a 75-race winless streak and hadn’t won since the August 2009 race at Michigan. He won his first Cup race in October 2006 at Talladega.
Vickers made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in 2009, only to be sidelined most of the next season because of blood clots. He had two procedures to close a hole in his heart and insert a stent into a vein in his left leg.
When 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 said. “For what’s to be, not what’s happened.”
Kyle Busch was second and Jeff Burton third. Pole winner Brad Keselowski was fourth. Enumclaw’s Kasey Kahne was 11th.
At 71, Morgan Shepherd took the wheel of the No. 52 Toyota and became the oldest driver to start a race in the Cup series.
“This is all for the race fans,” Shepherd said before the green flag dropped.
He started 41st in the 43-car field and completed 92 laps before his day ended. Shepherd made his Cup debut in 1970 and won four times in NASCAR’s top series. He finished fifth in the final standings in 1990 and hadn’t started a Cup race since 2006. He last ran a full season in 1996.
Shepherd said he’s working on sponsorship to race again this season, possibly the August race at Pocono. He added he’s “already got a promise” for a ride in the 2014 Daytona 500.
DIXON PULLS OFF SWEEP
Scott Dixon went into Pocono Raceway a week ago ranked seventh in the IndyCar standings and approaching the one-year mark on his last victory.
What a difference a week makes.
Dixon snapped his slump with a win at Pocono, then pulled off a weekend sweep of the Toronto doubleheader.
Three wins in seven days made Dixon the winningest active driver in IndyCar with 32 victories. It also thrust him into the heart of the championship race. With six races left, he trails championship leader Helio Castroneves by 29 points.
Dixon also received a $100,000 bonus from IndyCar sponsor Sonax for sweeping at Toronto.
BROWN WINS AT DETROIT
Kip Brown won on the Detroit River in the 95 Spirit of Qatar for his first APBA unlimited hydroplane Gold Cup victory. Brown’s father-in-law, the late Terry Troxell (2005), and uncle, Nate Brown (2004), are previous Gold Cup winners.