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  • Vickers a surprise winner

  • LOUDON, N.H. — Stuck in a hospital bed, Brian Vickers wanted to live another day.
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  • LOUDON, N.H. — Stuck in a hospital bed, Brian Vickers wanted to live another day.
    Once he recovered, he hungered for a competitive ride.
    And once he landed a solid seat, well, Vickers simply had to win.
    Even when life tossed obstacles in Vickers' path, his determined spirit never waned. After four years of health scares and unemployment put his promising career in doubt, Vickers kept pushing toward the finish line. He got there Sunday as the surprise winner at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
    "Coming here and sitting in Victory Lane, just makes it one of the most special events in my life," Vickers said.
    He had plenty of drivers in the series pulling for this comeback.
    One by one, they saluted Vickers with a wave from the car or a back slap on the way to Victory Lane.
    Close friend Jimmie Johnson, a five-time Cup champion, pumped his fist out the window in pure happiness as if he'd won a sixth title.
    Vickers did all he could to savor the unforgettable scene.
    "When you have so much love and support around you," Vickers said, "it makes all the difference in the world."
    Vickers even tried to celebrate with the fans, though the New Hampshire gates wouldn't open to the grandstands. That's OK. He had a pretty big mob waiting for him — even his fiancee, who had left the track to catch a ride home, only to reverse course and make it back just in time to greet him.
    About the only key cog missing was owner Michael Waltrip. Waltrip and co-owner Rob Kauffman were in Europe this weekend for the 20th annual Goodwood Festival of Speed in England.
    London, Loudon. Off by a letter.
    Vickers drives a part-time schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing and shares the No. 55 Toyota with Waltrip and Mark Martin. His win made him the No. 1 contender for a full-time ride at MWR in 2014.
    "Wins help a lot of business issues. So this was a great day for that," MWR general manager Ty Norris said. "He's been our focus. We would love to have him in that car."
    Vickers snapped a 75-race winless streak and hadn't won since the August 2009 race at Michigan. He won his first career Cup race in August 2006 at Talladega Superspeedway.
    Vickers made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in 2009, only to be sidelined most of the next season with blood clots. He had two procedures to close a hole in his heart and insert a stent into a vein in his left leg.
    After Red Bull Racing shut down after the 2011 season, Vickers hooked on with a limited ride with MWR. He has been driving full-time this season in the Nationwide Series for Joe Gibbs Racing.
    With his first checkered flag since his return, he is done looking back.
    "That's why I came back," he said. "For what's to be, not what's happened."
    Kyle Busch was second and Jeff Burton third. Pole winner Brad Keselowski was fourth and Aric Almirola fifth.
    Jimmie Johnson brushed off his 43rd-place start to finish sixth. Tony Stewart was running inside the top 10 at the final caution until he ran out of fuel and plummeted to 26th.
    "It's hard to calculate how much we are saving on the cautions," Stewart said. "We thought we were about three-quarters of a lap to the good before that last caution. Obviously, we didn't save as much as I thought we would."
    IndyCar
    At Toronto, Scott Dixon pulled off a weekend sweep through the streets of Toronto that has made him a sudden championship contender.
    Dixon was barely challenged at Exhibition Place, needing to pull off two late restarts to preserve what was otherwise an easy drive.
    It was his third consecutive win —in seven days — and it vaulted Dixon from seventh in the standings before last week's race at Pocono to second behind series leader Helio Castroneves.
    Next up for IndyCar? An Aug. 4 race at Mid-Ohio, where Dixon is the defending winner.
    "What a turnaround in a couple weeks," said Dixon, who was winless a week ago but broke through at Pocono for his first victory of the year.
    Now he can't be stopped and Sunday's win, the 32nd of his career, moved Dixon into sole possession of seventh on the all-time wins list. His victory Saturday moved him into a tie with teammate Dario Franchitti, Sebastien Bourdais and Paul Tracy, but the 32-year-old New Zealander is on the hunt for much more.
    His sweep of the Toronto doubleheader also earned Dixon a $100,000 bonus from IndyCar sponsor Sonax.
    "$100 grand is good, but I'd rather have the points," Dixon said. "Points are why we're here."
    With six races remaining, Dixon now trails leader Castroneves by 29 points. Castroneves finished second but had nothing in his Chevrolet to challenge the Honda driven by Dixon, who started from the pole.
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