Time often rewards us with maturity, often only after we face some adversity. The man who won at New Hampshire Sunday is not the same lad who, as a 20-year old, claimed what is now the Nationwide series crown in 2003. He is not the same guy who took out both Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr for his first Cup win just shy of his 23rd birthday in 2006. Brian Vickers presently is the best Cup driver without a full-time ride, something that will assuredly change next season, in the same car he drove past Tony Stewart to lead the final 16 laps enroute to victory this past weekend.
Vickers has paid his dues. After early career success he moved on to the new Red Bull team in 2007, failing to qualify for 13 races. Things seemed to be on the upswing before he was forced out of the car in 2010 after blood clots were discovered in his legs and near his lungs. He fought back, only to discover his return in 2011 was with a team on the down slide and about to go the way of the dodo. Without a ride, he became a part-timer for Michael Waltrip, yet in just 16 races these past two seasons he has won a race, claimed four top fives, and eight top tens. Talented, life tested, and all grown up, an even better version of Brian Vickers is back.
One driver needing to be better than he has been recently was, as Brad Keselowski finished fourth and returns to the Top Ten in the standings. An 11th place result did the same for Kasey Kahne. Stewart thought he had enough fumes to win, but that decision saw him fall all the way down to 26th when things went dry. He is back to relying on his single win for the second wild card spot.
Great day for Jeff Burton, finishing third to sit 17th in the standings. Only 31 points separates the 9th place Keselowski from Burton and only two between the 10th place Kahne and the 11th place Jeff Gordon. If Gordon moves ahead, then Stewart could find himself behind both Kahne and Martin Truex Jr for wild card dibs as he currently trails Truex by three and Kahne by five points. Gambling he had enough in the tank might prove to be costly for Smoke.
Ryan Newman gets word he is a man without a ride after this season, then he wrecks in his next race. No sympathy card coming from Kyle Busch, however. As the boys battled for eighth, Newman drifted up and wound up taking out Kurt Busch, who was having a pretty good day up to that moment. In response to his brother’s plight, the younger Busch boldly stated in a Sirius radio interview that Newman was a stupid idiot, a big ogre who does what he wants “because he can probably kick anybody’s butt” and Kyle was “glad he’s out of a job.” Ouch. Where is the love, people?
As Keith Whitley sang to us, sometimes those in love say it best when they say nothing at all. On a certain plane ride home, maybe all one heard was crickets Sunday night as Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr left the venue. Patrick got into Stenhouse, who picked up Travis Kvapil, and in the end none of them were very happy. The good news is that nobody expects much from any of them right now. Maybe the love birds could have invited Kvapil to join them on the flight home. I’m sure he would have had something to say.
At the age of 71, Morgan Shepherd became the oldest man to ever drive in a Cup race. He drove less than a third of the race, finishing 41st after parking the beast due to a vibration. How impressed should we be with his feat? Not very. Yet, it probably was more impressive than 77-year old Minnie Minoso drawing a walk in 2003 with independent baseball’s St. Paul Saints, or the single shift taken by 69-year old Gordie Howe with minor hockey’s Detroit Vipers in 1997. At least Morgan drove the damn car for more than a couple of minutes.
If you seek meaningful, there was June 18, 2005 when 46-year old Julio Franco hit a pair of homers for the Atlanta Braves against Cincinnati. Nine days later he hit a pinch-hit grand slam home run against Florida. As for Mr. Hockey, Howe scored his final NHL goal on April 9, 1980 for the Hartford Whalers against the Montreal Canadiens, his 15th of the season, at the age of 51. As for NASCAR, only four drivers have recorded a win after passing their 50th birthday. Their names are Harry Gant, Bobby Allison, Mark Martin…and Morgan Shepherd. Now, that is something to be proud of.
Rating New Hampshire – 8.5/10 – I was pretty sure Tony and Steve Addington blew the call about gas, unless Larry McReynolds was completely wrong. He was not. We had four drivers dominate, in the Busch boys, Matt Kenseth, and Tony…before Vickers simply won it. There was drama, there was heart break, there was TNT’s crew for the final time this season. No point complaining about that right now. There will be time for that in a couple of weeks.
Indianapolis comes up on Sunday, July 28th. Until then, we can preview the ESPN gang by taking in the Nationwide action from Chicago this Sunday or the Indy action on the big track a week from Saturday as Mr. Vickers returns to action. Of course, the marquee event between now and the Brickyard will be the return to the dirt as the truck series visits Mr. Stewart’s track at Eldora Speedway on Wednesday, July 24th. That should be a blast. Enjoy the next two weeks!