If Michael Waltrip Racing doesn’t sign Brian Vickers to drive the No. 55 Toyota full-time next year, they’re just flat out crazy.
Well, it’s safe to say that Vickers has locked up a new contract with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series organization. Vickers took the No. 55 car to victory lane on Sunday afternoon at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in stunning fashion. He passed Kyle Busch for the second position and Tony Stewart for the lead with 10 laps to go and didn’t look back after that. It’s the first time that Vickers has won a race since 2009 with Red Bull Racing at Michigan.
Vickers was sidelined in 2010 with a blood clot after the 11th race of the year. After Red Bull Racing closed, he found a home at Michael Waltrip Racing, splitting the schedule with Mark Martin for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Now, Martin won’t return to the team next year and the win should lock Vickers into the ride for 2014. The win was beyond surprising as Vickers hasn’t run very strong this year in his part-time gig in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and his full-time NASCAR Nationwide Series ride with Joe Gibbs Racing. Vickers finished second at New Hampshire on Saturday afternoon and arguably had the best car in that race as well. On Sunday though, Vickers may not have had the best car, but he had the best strategy.
Stewart attempted to stay out of the pits with a little less than 90 laps to go and didn’t pit for the remainder of the race. He attempted to make the race on fuel and retained the lead until Vickers passed him with 10 laps to go. Stewart finished 26th, one lap down as he ran out of fuel on the final lap.
The race was dominated by Kurt Busch, who led a race high 102 laps. However, Busch collected Ryan Newman in a late race incident which ruined both of their days. Busch was leading for the majority of the race and held the lead until the caution came out where he pitted for four tires which sent him outside of the top-five and put him in dangerous position heading into the restart. That wasn’t the only wreck of the day that involved NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders, though.
Joey Logano blew a tire on lap five and slammed hard into the wall, forcing him to finish in the 40th position. The wreck puts him 19th in the points standings, which means he’ll likely have to win at least two races to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Marcos Ambrose was turned by Kevin Harvick on lap 15 which also collected Casey Mears who slammed into the rear end of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s car, propelling him to hit Ambrose as they slammed A.J. Allmendinger in the midst of all the chaos. Stenhouse Jr. was able to continue, but then he was hit by his girlfriend, rookie of the year rival, Danica Patrick, which also collected Travis Kvapil. Kvapil was furious with Patrick as he tore up her right side door panel.
Jimmie Johnson was able to come from the last starting position to finish sixth and extend his points lead over Vickers’ teammate, Clint Bowyer, to 56 points. As of now, Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch are the first two drivers that would miss NASCAR’s version of the playoffs. Jeff Burton may be a guy to look out for now. Burton had a very strong car late in the race and propelled himself to the third position. Aric Almirola also used strategy to his favor and took a 20th place car to a fifth place finish.
Overall, it was an incredible race. Not too many fans would have expected a wreck fest at this track of all places. New Hampshire is usually known for long green flag runs, but that wasn’t the case on Sunday afternoon as there were 12 cautions. Fuel strategy played a giant role in the outcome of the race once again which led to the beyond shocking win by Vickers.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.