April 18, 2014

NASCAR: Vickers, hospitalized for Dover race last year, relishes top-five

vickers
, driver of the #83 Red Bull Toyota, leads , driver of the #4 Red Bull Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks at on May 15, 2011 in Dover, Delaware.
(May 14, 2011 – Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images North America)

DOVER, Del. — For a fifth-, Brian Vickers felt more like a winner after Sunday’s race, with good reason.

He missed the race a year ago after blood clots were discovered during a visit to Washington, D.C., ultimately forcing him to sit out the rest of last season while recovering. Healthy enough to return in Team’s No. 83 this season, Vickers needed 10 starts before earning his first top-five in the FedEx 400, finding more satisfaction that it came at Dover International Speedway.

“It’s a special race for me,” said Vickers, who started 15th. “Last year I was laying in the hospital with IVs in both arms when this race was going around.

“It feels pretty good to finish it — and finish it well.”

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Early in the race, Vickers brushed the inside wall while trying to avoid ’s swerving car. But repairs to the left side and subsequent adjustments helped him get back in the top 20 and flirt with the top 10 before that final pit stop on lap 364 put him in the top five to stay.

Taking the same gamble that benefited race winner and third-place finisher , Vickers’ crew chief, Ryan Pemberton, decided on two tires instead of four, helping Vickers improve from 11th coming in to fourth on the restart. He withstood challenges from , Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards, who were before that point and figured to have an edge down the stretch with four tires.

“I still felt good about the car,” Vickers said. “The guys did a really good job all day in the pits — good calls. Not overadjusting the car, fixing damage from the start of the race. The biggest thing you needed was track position.”

Vickers entered the race with three top-10s, most recently at Richmond International Raceway two weeks ago. This run not only showed progress but offers a building point toward consistent finishes.

Teammate Kasey Kahne started fourth and finished 36th after his No. 4 Toyota lost the engine on lap 331.

“We needed a good run,” said Vickers, who enters this weekend’s All-Star Race 27th in points. “We’ve run well all year, but the guys deserve a good run. … You have to keep charging; you can’t give up. That’s what (Sunday) was for us.”

Indy practice:

Alex Tagliani topped the speed chart during practice Monday for the Indianapolis 500, which is May 29.

Tagliani hit 225.878 mph late in the day on the 16th of his 17 laps at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Scott Dixon had been fastest before that, and his 225.124 mph stood as the second fastest on a cloudy, breezy day.

Graham Rahal (225.017) and Ryan Briscoe (225.016) were the only others to top 225 mph.

Dixon hit his best speed on the fourth of 10 laps.

Oriol Servia (224.903) rounded out the top five.

Four drivers topped 224 mph in Saturday’s rain-shortened practice. Sunday’s six-hour practice session was a complete washout.

But the conditions were dramatically different from Saturday’s warm, overcast skies.

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