Brian Vickers celebrates his first Sprint Cup victory since 2009 after winning Sunday’s Camping World 301.
LOUDON, N.H. — Brian Vickers proved during the Camping World 301 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday that a driver doesn’t have to have a full-time ride to make his way to Victory Lane at NASCAR’s top level.
Vickers, who snapped a 75-race winless streak and got his first victory since 2009, took the lead from Tony Stewart on lap 287 and remained in front the rest of the way to claim the win. Vickers is one of three drivers who share duties behind the wheel of the No. 55.
“He does a good job for us,” crew chief Rodney Childers said. “Really, all of our guys do. I think it’s (Vickers being in the car full-time next year) pretty much a done deal.”
According to Vickers, he’s just grateful for the opportunity.
“I’d like to thank Ty (Norris, MWR Executive Vice President of Business Development and General Manager) for making that phone call and giving me a chance,” Vickers said of his opportunity to drive the No. 55.
After being passed by Vickers, Stewart maintained second until he ran out of gas with 1 1/2 laps remaining. He wound up 26th, the final car scored on the lead lap.
Kyle Busch finished second, and Jeff Burton took third. Brad Keselowski and Aric Almirola rounded out the top five.
Despite the high number of cautions that littered the race that was scheduled for 301 laps, the race turned into a fuel mileage run. The yellow flag waved 12 times, with the final caution coming out with five laps to go, resulting in a green-white-checker restart that added extra laps.
“It’s hard to calculate how much (fuel) you’re saving under caution,” Stewart said. “I thought we were three-quarters of a lap to the good before that last caution.”
Stewart made his final pit stop of the race on lap 203, as did Bobby Labonte. Staying out on the race track for all of the cautions that followed kept Stewart up front until his tank ran dry. Labonte ran out of fuel on lap 294.
Vickers made his final stop on lap 211, during the seventh caution of the race. Normally the remaining distance would be too far to go on a tank a fuel, but the high number of cautions allowed Vickers to save enough fuel to go the rest of the way.
Busch, meanwhile, pitted a few laps later. He was also on newer tires than the drivers who were in front of him after his final pit stop. The newer tires and the lack of worry regarding fuel mileage allowed Busch to drive back up through the field and into the top three.
“I think we were the fastest car here today,” Busch said. “I guess I burn the tires off, I don’t know. We’re good on the short runs but can turn if we get in traffic.”
Before pit strategies began to vary with regard to pitting or staying out, most laps were led by the brotherly duo of Kurt and Kyle Busch. Both Busch brothers played it safe, hitting pit road often and usually taking four tires before the final run to the end.
Before he could make his way up through traffic and back toward the front, though, Kurt Busch got caught up in an incident on lap 225 that also involved Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth, who had also run near the front for much of the first half of the race.
Jimmie Johnson drove up to a sixth-place finish after starting the race 43rd and last after having his qualifying time disallowed on Friday. Finishing seventh through 10th were Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kenseth and Jeff Gordon.
“We had a great race car,” Johnson said. “Once you get into the top-10, it’s a whole different ballgame.”
NOTES: Vickers’ win was the third of his career but the first in 75 races. … Vickers’ last win came at Michigan International Speedway in 2009. … Vickers shares the No. 55 seat with car owner Michael Waltrip and Mark Martin. … Jeff Burton led the entire New Hampshire race in 2001 en route to his win at the track. … This year marks the 30th year of NASCAR racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. … Burton’s Cup level debut came in that first race. … Reigning Sprint Cup champion Keselowski headed into the race outside the top 10 in the championship points standings but returned to the top 10 with his fourth-place finish.