Allen Lessels' on Motorsports: Vickers earned his win
LOUDON -- JIMMIE JOHNSON stood next to his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet late on Sunday afternoon and graciously answered the last of the questions about the just-completed Camping World RV Sales 301 and then he was off and running.
He had a place to go. Something to do.
A similar scene plays out at racetracks around the country and at New Hampshire Motor Speedway late each Sunday afternoon that the Sprint Cup stops by.
The race ends and competitors bring their cars back to the garage and then the next race begins. Drivers climb out of their cars and peel off their firesuits and start hurrying toward the gates, the quicker to get to their rides and eventually their flights and home.
But Jimmie Johnson this time did not head directly toward the New Hampshire Motor Speedway tunnel and points south.
Johnson finished fifth in the race and was on his way to find Brian Vickers. In a hurry.
“I’m heading over to Victory Lane now to dump some Gatorade on his head,” Johnson said.
And off he ran.
Johnson’s was a sentiment shared by others.
Vickers, who drives only part time for Michael Waltrip and has made a big-time comeback just to get to this point, was a feel-good story on Sunday. He won his third career Cup race in 271 starts and first since Aug. 16, 2009 at Michigan.
Since then, he had his 2010 racing season ended by blood clots that threatened his life, driven a season for Red Bull Racing and then watched that team fold and signed on with Waltrip for last season.
Can he put in words what it feels like to battle through it all and come out and win again? “I don’t know that I can, to be honest with you,” Vickers said. “Everything that I’ve gone through over the last so many years from the blood clots; and you wake up one morning and you’re just not sure — you’re just hoping to be around the next. To, are you ever going to race again to, OK, I may race again, to, all right I’m racing but now I don’t have a job.”
Then Ty Norris, an executive at Waltrip Racing, called and offered him a chance to drive a half dozen races last year and nine this season.
Now he was sitting at the winner’s table at NHMS for a post-race press conference with Norris and crew chief Rodney Childers.
The Aaron’s No. 55 Dream Machine Toyota had lived up to its name.
His team members weren’t the only ones excited about Vickers becoming the 11th different winner in the last 11 races at NHMS.
As he drove down the backstretch after taking the checkered flag, rival after rival came by to congratulate him.
“It was actually one of the most special moments of the win,” said Vickers, who was sure to thank all those who have supported him through the years, particularly the recent years. “Every single car that came by put a tire mark on the door or was shaking their fist. In a good way. Or they gave me a wave and it wasn’t just a lazy wave. They really meant it.”
Especially Johnson, one of his best buddies in Sprint Cup.
“When Jimmie came by me on the racetrack, I think he was shaking his fist harder,” Vickers said. “He was like jumping out of the seat, I think, he was so excited for me.”
Vickers earned the win, the fist shakes and the Victory Lane visit, Johnson figured.
“He’s been through a long road of challenges and he’s fought through it all,” Johnson said.
Vickers and Co. enjoyed the win and seemed to enjoy the press conference.
They told of how the driver’s fiancée had to leave to catch her ride home and when his fortunes turned in the race, she hustled back. They talked about how nothing is guaranteed, but that wins certainly help when it comes to landing sponsorships and determining whether Vickers will drive the car full-time next season.
And as the lengthy press conference was about to wrap up, Norris pointed out that Vickers had come to the event wearing a hat bearing not his name but that of Mark Martin, one of the other drivers of the car this year. Michael Waltrip is the third.
“You’ve got to run 10 races to get your own hat,” Norris said with a laugh.
Everyone laughed with him. Yeah, it was a feel-good story.
On Twitter: @allenlessels