Nothing was going to stop Tony Stewart from pulling away from the field on restarts. Nothing, except a dry gas tank. And it was Brian Vickers who took advantage of Stewart's bad luck, zipping by him on the Magic Mile backstretch with one lap to go and holding on to win the Camping World RV Sales 301 - Vickers' third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory in 271 career starts.
"Hard to put into words," said Vickers - a part-time driver for Michael Waltrip Racing - who celebrated his moment sharing high-fives to fans along the frontstretch. "This is one of the most special events of my life. It feels like the first time in my career, the partners and owners and managers and crew chief are as good as it has been in my career."
Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton, Brad Keselowski and Aric Almirola round out the top-five.
Vickers becomes the 11th different winner in the last 11 Sprint Cup races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the longest active streak of any track in the circuit. It's the first victory and fourth top-10 finish in 16 races for Vickers in New Hampshire. It's the third top-10 finish in eight starts this season for the native of Thomasville, N.C., and the first victory in the Sprint Cup Series since taking the checkers at Michigan International Speedway.
It was also Vickers's first win since being diagnosed with blood clots in his legs and lungs.
"Wake up one morning and hope to be around the next. To then I hope to race to now I am racing. To now I don't have a job then getting a call to see if I'm interested in running races," said Vickers, who reflected on his return to racing from the health scare. "The biggest thing is support from my family and friends through the difficult times, a select few folks who still believed in me and supported me along the way."
For Busch, the runner-up finish comes a day after winning the CNBC Prime's "The Profit" 200 Nationwide Series race at the Magic Mile. Busch led 53 laps on Sunday, but wasn't able to chase down Stewart.
"The car was super-fast, but anytime you got close to someone the aero-effect took over and you couldn't get any closer than five car-lengths," said Busch, who now has four top-fives in his last six Cup starts. "You have to get all you can get on those restarts and we just weren't able to get a good enough start to pull ahead and get into open air."
The third-place finish for Jeff Burton was his highest finish since taking second at Daytona on July 7 of last year. It was also Burton's best New Hampshire finish since leading all 300 laps in September of 2000.
"I like the people up here; I've been racing here for 25 years," said Burton, who has four career wins at the Magic Mile. "I just like racing here, it's a really challenging racetrack. It is fun, it is aggressive, it is hard … I just love it here."
Rounding out the top-10 were Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon. The sixth-place finish for Johnson was impressive given he was forced to start at the rear of the field because of a failed inspection following qualifying on Friday. He now sits 56 points ahead of Clint Bowyer (13th) in the Sprint Cup Series standings.
"Once you get to the top 10 that's a different game trying to pass cars and work your way to the front," said Johnson. "All in all a great day for the Lowe's team."
Vickers will start four more races this season, including the SYLVANIA 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sept. 22. And given the way Sunday finished, another run-in with Stewart - a three-time New Hampshire winner - is not only possible, but very likely.
"He was not the guy I wanted to be next to on a green-white-checkered finish," said Vickers. "I knew he wasn't going to use me up, run me off the racetrack and he wasn't going to wreck me. I thank him for racing me clean."
Clean as an empty tank.
For more details and ticket information on events at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, or to purchase tickets to the SYLVANIA 300 NASCAR weekend in September, please stop by our Ticket Office, visit the speedway website at www.nhms.com, or call our Ticket Hotline at (603) 783-4931.