Brian Vickers savors the moment

LOUDON, N.H. -- Brian Vickers couldn't do a burnout and had to walk to Victory Lane because he ran out of gas. He couldn't immediately celebrate with his fiancée, who was stuck in traffic after leaving early to catch a plane. His team owner was in England and his cap had Mark Martin stitched into the side.

But after all the 29-year-old part-time Sprint Cup and full-time Nationwide driver has been through the past three years, it didn't spoil the moment.

Nothing could.

"Feels good," said Vickers, his voice cracking with emotion after Sunday's victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. "Man, it feels good."

If you want a feel-good story, NASCAR fans, something to take your mind off Jimmie Johnson dominating the series once again, this is it.

Vickers, whose career almost ended three years ago when blood clots were found in his legs and lungs, overcame more than most can imagine to get back to Victory Lane.

So this was sweet.

It didn't impact Vickers' Chase hopes since he isn't a candidate for the drivers' title, but it did put the No. 55 in the rare position to compete for the owners' title with three drivers.

There were some shakeups in the playoff picture. Reigning champion Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne moved into the top 10, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch moved out. Stewart ran out of gas running third on the last lap and Busch wrecked earlier after leading 102 laps.

But this day belongs to Vickers.

And for Vickers, this day was bigger than any Chase. It should -- if not already -- assure next season he is the full-time driver of the 55, which he currently shares with Mark Martin and team owner Michael Waltrip, who was in England competing in the Goodwill Festival of Speed.

If primary sponsor Aaron's had any doubts about committing to the 2004 rookie of the year, this should take care of that.

The kid can still drive.

"With everything that has happened … coming here and sitting here in Victory Lane makes it one of the most special events in my life," Vickers said.

What made it even more special was Vickers wasn't handed this win. He earned it.

He went a lap down because a crew member left a wrench on the deck lid during a pit stop. He ran down three-time champion and former nemesis Stewart for the lead with 16 laps remaining, then held off Stewart and Kyle Busch on a green-white-checkered finish after seeing his 2.4-second lead wiped away by another caution.

Then it was pure relief.

As Vickers crossed the finish line for the first time since Michigan in 2009 and only the third time of his career, MWR general manager Ty Norris came on the radio and said, "Hey, career, welcome back baby."



Then the emotions of everything that happened in the past and what Vickers has to look forward to in the future hit him.

And a lot has happened.

Vickers' promising career took a dive in May 2010 when blood clots forced him to step away from his Cup ride at Red Bull Racing for the rest of the season.

He returned in 2011, but after a frustrating year of finishing 25th in points, he was left without a ride when the organization shut down.

He began the 2012 season without a ride, but in early March was given the chance to run eight races in the 55, a ride he would share with Martin and Waltrip.

He returned this season as a part-time driver in the 55 and a full-time driver in the Nationwide Series for Joe Gibbs Racing, with the hope of securing the 55 full time for 2014. This should do it, even though MWR still has to convince Aaron's, which is under new ownership, to remain a partner.

"All I can tell you is wins help a lot of business issues, so this was a great day for that," Norris said.

This was a great day for many reasons and many people. Vickers' fiancée, one of his biggest supporters, was so excited that she got out of the car in traffic and ran back to the track in flip-flops to share the moment. Waltrip was so excited that he requested pictures of the postrace news conference via text.

Johnson was so excited that he pumped his fist harder than he did after winning the Daytona 500 as he pulled beside his good friend on the cool-down lap.

Martin was so excited that he tweeted, "Wow, this is the most awesome thing."

Even second-place Kyle Busch was excited, and for the record he made no mention of a Nationwide driver stinking up the Cup show as he's accused of doing to NASCAR's second-tier series.

There are moments in sports that go beyond the wins and losses. This was one of them.

"You know, at a certain point it is good to shut the door on some things and look forward and move on," Vickers said. "I don't know if the monkey on your back is really the right expression, but to finally get that victory …

"It's one thing to get back in a race car. It's another thing to have a good day. But it's a whole another thing to win a race. This day, in a whole lot of ways, takes the weight off my shoulders and is a breath of fresh air and very relieving and probably does allow me to live a little bit more in the moment and focus on the future."

Vickers' past, which included losing his best friend, Ricky Hendrick, in a 2004 plane crash and him leaving powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports to make a name for himself, will be part of his story forever.

But the victory in a way does shut the door on the past and opens another for the future.

As we were reminded, he turned down a full-time Cup ride with a lesser organization to drive part time for MWR because he believed this was an organization that one day could make him a championship contender.

As we were reminded, his goal when he returned from the blood clots wasn't to just compete, but to compete for wins and titles.

Sunday reaffirmed what many predicted after he won the Nationwide title in 2003, that the talent is still there.

"There's no guarantees in this sport," Vickers said. "This is a very, very challenging, competitive sport. But I feel like I can win a championship with this team. That's our goal."

That will have to wait. Vickers has only four rides left in the 55 this season, and the next isn't until Watkins Glen next month.

His next race will be in a Nationwide Series car on Sunday at Chicagoland for another organization.

But he will go there knowing that he rewarded the faith MWR and many others had in him when his career appeared as dead as his chances of winning midway through Sunday's race.

"I think that was probably the biggest emotion that I had, I have, that I still will have going forward, because they took a chance, in a lot of ways," Vickers said. "There was a lot going on and a lot of uncertainty for me.

"You know, whether it was health issues or all the drama or just -- there was so much. I'm just very thankful for all that. That was probably the No. 1 and the main emotion I had and still have."

And nothing could spoil that on this day.