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'Thankful' Vickers eager for another chance at Loudon

July 08, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

'Thankful' Vickers eager for another chance at Loudon
Vickers is currently 16th in the Sprint Cup Series driver standings

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Brian Vickers, the guy who once occupied ninth-place in points before his 2014 season took a turn for the worse, returns to New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend fresh off a season-best runner-up finish at Daytona.

Sixteenth in points and needing a win to solidify his team's chances at qualifying for this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

His win here a year ago wasn't the most surprising of the season -- David Ragan's Talladega victory with the overshadowed Front Row Motorsports outfit had already stolen that distinction -- but it was unexpected nonetheless.

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While the Camping World RV Sales 301 was the 19th stop of the 2013 season, it marked just the eighth start for Vickers, who was one of three drivers shuffling in and out of the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55 Toyota. 

He had led only three laps heading into the race, although he had scored top-10 finishes at Bristol and Texas earlier in the year.

New Hampshire features a not-so-typical 1.058-mile, relatively flat layout. That Vickers says he's a fan of the track comes as no surprise.

"A track you win at, you'll always like," he said during Tuesday's weekly NASCAR teleconference.

Vickers and teammate Clint Bowyer are attempting to restore a bit of relevance to MWR following last year's Chase fallout. Bowyer is 12th in points, but like Vickers, winless this season. Earlier this month, the two teams, along with Jeff Burton in a third MWR entry, tested at New Hampshire. Vickers called the test "great," but noted that, "I know a lot of other teams tested there as well.

"It's not going to be easy," he said of defending his title, "but I think we're definitely capable of winning again. It would be a great place to have a repeat win and lock ourselves into the Chase."

The 2013 win was also significant, he said, because of past medical issues that sidetracked his racing career and threatened to take him out of racing altogether. 

Getting that first win with a new team was big. That he was back behind the wheel was bigger.

"Your first win with a new team, a new group of guys, is always special," he said. "… But the biggest thing was … in Victory Lane reflecting back to a couple of years earlier when I was sitting in a hospital, not sure if I'd ever get the chance to race again, being told there was a good chance that would never happen again."

In 2010, Vickers missed the final 25 races after being diagnosed with blood clots. He returned in 2011 but struggled with the underperforming Red Bull Racing organization.

Early in 2012, MWR offered him the opportunity to share seat time with Waltrip and Mark Martin, an arrangement that was extended for 2013. He also signed with Joe Gibbs Racing to run the full NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule in 2013.

Late in the season, however, long after his surprising win at New Hampshire and shortly after being named driver of the No. 55 full time for 2014, another blood clot issue forced him to the sidelines for the final four races. (Editor's note: Click here to watch Vickers tell his story on his battle with blood clots.)

The recurrence, brought on by a cast he was wearing for a sprain, was a "shock" Vickers said, but eventually he was cleared to return to competition once again.

"All you can do is keep pushing forward, never give up," he said. "… That's what I did. I was fortunate to have the support of a lot of great people … (who) completely stuck behind me and said, 'Go get healthy, the car will be here when you get back.'

"And I'm very thankful for that."

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