Victorious! (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
It took a few moments for the emotional depth of Brian Vickers' win to sink in. But once it did, it became a rush, for Vickers and his team.
Flashback to late spring 2010: Vickers was on a PR swing through Washington DC in advance of the Dover race. And the next thing he knew he was in the hospital fighting for his life, against some very rare blood clotting disease.
Then when he finally recovered enough to return to action the following season, his team was suddenly a lame duck operation, when owner/sponsor Red Bull decided to pull the plug.
And questions about his durability appeared to hang over him.
But Michael Waltrip decided to take a chance, gave him an opportunity, even if only for eight races in 2012. Vickers made the most of that, with three top fives.
Still he couldn't land a full-time ride. So he agreed again to an eight-race deal with Waltrip this season....with hopes he could take a full-time ride with Waltrip for 2014.
That full-time deal still isn't firm, and there could still be sponsorship questions.
But winning sometimes is a great cure.
"When everything is going your way and you're in victory lane, everyone is your friend," Vickers said. "But when your back is against the wall and everything is down and things are not looking so good, you find out quickly who is willing to vouch for you or not. I learned a lot through that experience personally, and I grew a lot as a person.
"Coming here, sitting in victory lane, just makes it one of the most special events of my life."
Ty Norris, Michael Waltrip's team manager, was just as emotional.
"Michael Waltrip Racing and Brian Vickers, we were both at one point left for dead. We were thought that we wouldn't continue... and his career was in a state of flux.
Our race was very much like that today after the penalty. We spent probably two‑thirds of the races running in the teens to twenties, and we knew that looking at the speed that that was not representative.
"But one of the most impressive things that has happened all this season -- I think in our entire sport -- may have gone a little bit unnoticed. Brian did not get a chance to come to Sonoma, did not practice, did not get one lap in, didn't get to qualify. Flew in, dropped into the seat Sunday morning at Sonoma, and at the end of the race, we're 110 laps and the person with the most fast laps of the day was Brian Vickers.
"That just doesn't happen. That shows incredible talent, shows incredible confidence in yourself and the equipment, and the communication."
Elsewhere here Sunday evening at New Hampshire Motor Speedway things weren't quite as mellow.
Ryan Newman didn't have a great weekend up here in lobster country. First, boss Tony Stewart announced he didn't have a spot for Newman for 2014. Then midway through Sunday's race he got clobbered.
"We just got whacked by a bunch of guys," Newman complained. "Kyle Busch hit me first, Brad Keselowski hit me next. And then I guess it was Kurt Busch that went underneath three-wide and by-passed Matt Kenseth and clipped us and knocked us into the fence.
"I guess Matt had a little influence on it.
"Just a lot of disrespect from a bunch of guys on restarts. What comes around goes around."
Busch's version: "I just got hit from behind."
Danica Patrick wound up in another accident. Again she took the blame: "Either I misjudged the braking or everyone jammed up a little bit.
"I got sideways trying to slow down. I didn't want to take anybody with me. I feel bad. We were having a reasonable race and just didn't mean to do it."
One of the others caught up in the melee was Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who was one of several drivers complaining about not enough brakes for this record-fast track.
All eyes were on Jimmie Johnson, who has dominated the tour, but who had to start in the rear, after a NASCAR penalty.
Chad Knaus: "We made the best of a bad situation, and that's all you can do.
"We wanted to make today a non-issue, and I think that's exactly what we did. We didn't need to win today, but the most important thing is we didn't need to lose. And I think we came out of here with a solid run."
The first incident of the day, one of 12 cautions, came when Kevin Harvick turned Marcos Ambrose.
Another incident came late when Paul Menard expressed his displeasure with a slide-job pass by Jeff Gordon....responding by spinning Gordon.
"I wasn't happy," Gordon said. "But none of that is worth it for 20th or 18th or whatever we were racing for.
"I don't even know what it was. But it is what it is."
Gordon rallied to finish 10th.
Tires were a curious issue for some teams. Low air pressure was apparently the culprit.
Joey Logano, who blew a tire on only the fourth lap of the race, was angry:
"We had a tire failure. That is two weeks in a row.
"It is the same thing that happened to Jamie McMurray in practice. The left rear tire blew out.
"It is something they need to look into, because that is two cars this week. And I am surprised it happened.
"I am just mad right now."
Logano expressed that anger with a careless 360 on pit road, hitting one of his crewmen, who was apparently not seriously injured.
One of the day's big winners was Jeff Burton, who finished third, his best of the year so far.
"A lot of people have given up on this team and me," Burton said. "But a lot of people haven't. And we haven’t given up on ourselves either.
"Honestly, the last two months we have been running solidly in the top-10 really consistently. We just hadn't gotten the finishes.
"At Kentucky we ran in the top-five a lot and had a problem late. Sonoma, we were running eighth and had a problem late.
"Early in the year if there was a wreck, I got to it as quick as I could. It seemed every wreck out there I was in it.
"Hopefully that is behind us."