JOLIET, ILL. (AP) - Asked if he felt a sense of vindication after Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series victory at New Hampshire, Brian Vickers paused.
Perhaps that wasn’t quite the right word.
Yes, Vickers‘ once-promising career was undone by circumstances outside his control, leaving him to prove himself all over again in NASCAR. But when your nemesis is the mysterious illness in your rear-view mirror instead of a fellow competitor, maybe there’s just not much to feel vindicated about.
“I don’t know if that’s a word I’ve thought of,” Vickers said Saturday, before a practice session to prepare for Sunday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway. “I suppose you can (say) that. But I think more than anything for me, it was just enjoy the moment, just a very special occasion, and very thankful and blessed to have the opportunity to get back into a race car.”
Vickers was a driver on the rise in 2009, winning his second career Sprint Cup race and qualifying for the Chase. But a health scare derailed his development the following year, forcing him out of the car early in the 2010 season to receive treatment for blood clots. He returned in 2011, only to struggle — and then his team, Red Bull Racing, shut down.
He has driven part-time for Michael Waltrip Racing over the past two seasons, and full-time in Nationwide with Joe Gibbs Racing this year. For a driver looking to prove himself all over again, getting a win was particularly meaningful.
Fellow driver Elliott Sadler, seated next to Vickers in a news conference on Saturday, went out of his way to express congratulations.
“I think as race car drivers, when Brian got sick and had to get out of the race car, a lot of us looked at each other going, `Man, I don’t know if we could do that,’” Sadler said. “I don’t know if we really appreciated Brian taking care of himself first and then taking the patience and everything to get back in the race car and going through all the steps that he had to get through to be a winner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series level. I think a lot of people don’t understand what that takes. So congratulations, man, on last week. You’ve been through one hell of a road and you deserve what’s been happening with you.”