There was a time when Brian Vickers didn’t think he would ever race again.
And then there was Sunday.
Vickers, whose Sprint Cup Series career was derailed by a life-threatening illness three years ago, once again found himself in Victory Lane after winning a race in NASCAR’s premier Sprint Cup Series.
His victory in Sunday’s Camping World 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was the third of his career but easily the most special.
“Just to be back in a race car for me personally was a big goal and a big accomplishment and a big step and it was because no one around me would let me give up on myself,” said Vickers, who was diagnosed in May 2010 with blood clots which required surgery to correct. He sat out rest of the season.
“I obviously didn’t give up on myself, but when you have so much love and support around you, that makes all the difference in the world,” he said.
Vickers has been unable to secure a full-time ride in the Cup series since his return and has been running a partial schedule with Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 Toyota team, sharing driving duties with team owner Michael Waltrip and veteran Mark Martin.
This season he is running a full schedule in the Nationwide Series with Joe Gibbs Racing with hopes of racing a full-time Cup schedule next year.
As Vickers has learned already in his life, there are no guarantees.
“Once it was over, it was – I think it was a sigh of relief with everything that had happened to finally, you know, to clinch another victory after so long and after so much,” he said.
“It was a lot of thankfulness. I don’t know if that’s the best – that’s definitely the feeling I have. I just don’t know if that’s the right word to articulate it.”
Vickers’ last Cup win came in 2009 at Michigan while at Red Bull Racing. His first came in 2006 at Talladega, Ala., with Hendrick Motorsports.
A NASCAR career filled with twists and turns has not dampened the desire of the 29-year-old native of Thomasville, just outside of High Point.
“When your back is against the wall and everything is down and things are not looking so good, you find out quickly who is willing to vouch for you or not,” Vickers said. “I learned a lot through that experience personally and I grew a lot as a person myself.
“I’m thankful for that, and with everything that’s happened, I’d like to think that I’ll never forget those learning curves.”
Sunday’s win didn’t come easy.
Vickers went a lap down early in the race when he was penalized for leaving his pit stall with equipment – a wrench was left on the decklid.
He made it back to the lead lap and back into contention and ran down Tony Stewart to take the lead on Lap 287 of the scheduled 301-lap race.
A late caution extended the race to 302 laps on the on the final restart, Vickers had to ward off charges from first Stewart and then Kyle Busch to secure the win. Stewart ended up running out of fuel on the last lap.
Busch finished second, Jeff Burton was third, Brad Keselowski fourth and Aric Almirola finished a career-best fifth. Series points leader Jimmie Johnson ended up sixth.
“Vickers taking the outside (lane) was going to be the car to beat and Tony (Stewart) obviously running out of gas there – almost wrecked with him,” Busch said.
“I just wish the race was two laps longer and Vickers would have run out and maybe we would have been able to win the thing.”
While the No. 55 can’t make the Chase with a driver, it still has a chance to win a NASCAR championship this season. After Vickers’ win the team moved into position for one of the two wild card entries in the Chase based on the owner’s standings.
“Our team has rallied around that,” said Ty Norris, MWR’s executive vice president and general manager. “The No. 55 has rallied around that for the last year-and-a-half, so I know it’s something that we are very aware of.”