Brian Vickers scores first Sprint Cup win in four seasons

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Brian Vickers stretched out his final fuel load and held on to win the Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in a green-white-checkered finish – his first victory in NASCAR’s top category since the 2009 season.

A debris caution with five laps remaining set the stage for the G-W-C, with Vickers and Tony Stewart – both running low on fuel – leading the field to the green flag. Kyle Busch in third dropped to the inside for a brief attempt at three-wide, but coming off of Turn 2, Vickers was able to clear Stewart on the outside. Moments later, Stewart slowed on the track as his car went bone-dry, effectively handing the race to the Michael Waltrip Racing part-timer.

The win is especially sweet for Vickers, who has been through many obstacles in recent years both on the track and off. In May of 2010, while driving for Team Red Bull, he suffered blood clots in his legs and around his lungs, which forced him out for the remainder of that season. He would return in 2011, but at the end of that year, the Red Bull camp shut down.

Since last year, he has raced in a part-time capacity for MWR and currently splits the No. 55 Toyota with Mark Martin and team owner Michael Waltrip. However, Waltrip has been eyeing Vickers to take over that particular ride full-time for next season.

Vickers’ crew chief, Rodney Childers, said to TNT after today’s win that he felt it was “pretty much a done deal” that his driver would get the ride. Vickers wouldn’t go that far, however.

“Nothing’s a guarantee in life,” he said in Victory Lane. “I’ve learned that the hard way. Even when you think it’s done, it’s not done. But it definitely goes a long way.”

As for Stewart, he wound up finishing 26th.

“It’s hard to calculate how much we’re saving on the cautions,” he said to TNT. “I thought we were three-quarter of a lap to the good there before that last caution, so obviously, we didn’t save as much as we thought we would.”

Kyle Busch wound up moving to second after Stewart sputtered out, while longtime New Hampshire contender Jeff Burton collected a strong third-place finish ahead of Brad Keselowski in fourth and Aric Almirola in fifth.

Kyle’s older brother, Kurt, looked set to fight for the win until he was caught in a Lap 226 wreck with Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth. Kenseth narrowly made contact in Turn 1 with Busch, who then went into Newman and caused the two to spin out.

Kurt finished 31st after leading 102 laps on the day.

Sixth place went to Jimmie Johnson, who had to start 43rd today for the first time in his NASCAR career after he was disqualified from Friday qualifying for failing post-race inspection. Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kenseth and Jeff Gordon rounded out the Top 10.

NHRA: Antron Brown on verge of earning 50th career Top Fuel win this weekend at Phoenix

Photo courtesy Toyota Racing
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When you’re used to winning championships – like three in the previous five seasons – any other season finish is disappointing.

That’s kind of how NHRA Top Fuel dragster driver Antron Brown looked at his fourth-place showing in the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

“At the end of the day, we had a very competitive season last year and made it to 10 final rounds,” Brown said. “But we got into the Countdown (NHRA’s six-race playoffs) and our timing was off.

“We struggled with a lot of problems we don’t usually have. Now it’s time for a new chapter for this team and time to get better. This is a new beginning for us and it’s going to be fun and exciting and we’re coming after them.”

Antron Brown hugs the NHRA Top Fuel championship trophy after winning it in 2016. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire)

Brown had a good start to 2018, reaching the semifinals before losing to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher in the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

“We had a great performance at Pomona and I couldn’t be more proud of what our Matco/Toyota guys did,” Brown said. “Now we are going to Phoenix where we’ve won three times (2009, 2012 and 2014, and was runner-up in 2011) and we’ll just try to hit it hard and get a fourth.”

Next up on the NHRA 24-race national event circuit is the second race of the season, this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix (Chandler, Arizona).

Brown has definite plans to make it four wins in Phoenix. And if he does that Sunday, he’ll set a significant career milestone: it would be his 50th career win driving a Top Fueler and the 66th win overall (he won 16 races in Pro Stock Motorcycle before shifting from two to four wheels).

In so doing, Brown would become only the fourth Top Fuel driver in NHRA history to hit the 50-win mark. The others are Tony Schumacher (83), Larry Dixon (62) and Joe Amato (52).

This will be the second time Brown has been racing in Phoenix this month. He was part of the preseason test there for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock cars a week before the season began.

“Testing went really well there,” said Brown, leaving him optimistic that he can reach victory circle once again. “I love going back to Phoenix.”

Brown has been the most dominant driver in NHRA Top Fuel competition since 2012, winning more than twice the number of races (34) than the next most successful Top Fuel driver (16 by Schumacher) in that time period.

He also has a 71 percent overall win percentage, which exceeds both eight-time Top Fuel champ Schumacher and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force.

“I’m just pumped up, feeling like we’ve got some unfinished business from last year,” Brown said. “We had a good outing but didn’t close the deal, so this year, we’re looking forward to getting back there and getting off to a great start.”

NOTES: Brown will serve as honorary pace car driver for the March 4th Pennzoil 400 NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas. He’ll be joined by teammates Matt Hagan and Leah Pritchett in a weekend full of activities that they’ll all be involved in.

“I’m really excited,” Brown said. “It’s going to be my first experience as a pace car driver, and I’m just super stoked to go out there and drive the Camry pace car for Pennzoil and start those NASCAR boys off the right way. Throttle down, pedal to the metal. I just want them to get off to a great start.”

Brown has won four times at The Strip, the drag strip adjacent to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity,” he said. “It’s an honor to be out there with such talented drivers, and I know I’m going to really enjoy watching our NASCAR counterparts.”

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