The No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota sponsored by Aaron’s is nicknamed the “Dream Machine,” as a play on the sponsor’s slogan. It could probably be said that the No. 55 made Brian Vickers dream come true on Sunday, as it carried him to victory in the Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
“I’d like to thank Ty (Norris, MWR Executive Vice President of Business Development and General Manager) for making that phone call and giving me a chance,” Vickers said of his opportunity to drive the No. 55, along with car owner Michael Waltrip and Mark Martin.
The three drivers have shared the seat of the No. 55 since the beginning of the 2012 season, but Vickers is the first among them to win in the car. Waltrip was unable to celebrate with the track, as he was at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in Europe.
“I’m at the wrong track!!” Waltrip tweeted soon after Vickers’ win, reminiscent of his line in a commercial from several years ago.
Kyle Busch finished second, and Jeff Burton posted his best finish of the year — third. Brad Keselowski climbed back into the top-10 of the championship points standings with a fourth-place finish, and Aric Almirola rounded out the top-five.
The yellow flag waved 12 times throughout the race that was scheduled to go 301 laps, more than the number of cautions in the last three races at the track, combined. The final caution came out with five laps to go, resulting in a green-white-checker finish that spelled trouble for Tony Stewart.
Stewart led most of thelast 100 laps of the race after getting off pit road with two tires on lap 203. That left 98 laps to go in the race’s scheduled distance — too far to go on a tank of fuel under normal circumstances, but with the large number of cautions, Stewart tried to stretch his fuel mileage that far, anyway.
“It’s hard to calculate how much (fuel) you’re saving under caution,” Stewart said. “I thought we were three-quarters-of-a-lap to the good before that last caution.”
Bobby Labonte was also on the same fuel strategy, but his tank ran dry with seven laps to go in the scheduled distance. Stewart’s fuel held out until he was just a lap-and-a-half from the checkered flag. After running out of gas, Stewart wound up 26th.
Busch opted to pit a few laps later, making his final stop during a lap 225 caution. Bush restarted 28th after that caution, but on four newer tires, was able to drive back up toward the front.
“I think we were the fastest car here today,” Busch said. “I guess I burn the tires off, I don’t know. We’re good on the short runs but can turn if we get in traffic.”
The Busch brothers, Kyle and Kurt, combined to dominate the first half of the race, but a safe pit strategy that sent them down pit road during almost every caution around the midway point of the race and calls to take four put them back in the field for restarts. Kyle Busch was able to work his way forward, but Kurt Busch wound up in an incident on lap 225 that also involved Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth.
Kenseth was able to continue on and post a top-10 finish, but Newman and Kurt Busch weren’t as fortunate. Finishing sixth through 10th were Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kenseth and Gordon.
Johnson started the race 43rd after his qualifying time from Friday was disallowed because of his car being too low in post-qualifying inspection. He made his way up through the field rather quickly and was inside the top-15 by the third caution of the race on lap 79.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR