LOUDON, N.H. — Brian Vickers can already claim a victory this season without taking a checkered flag.
Vickers has started all 18 Sprint Cup races, the kind of run that's a given for stars such as Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. For Vickers, the number holds a special significance. It means the blood clots that have cost him major chunks of his career since 2010 haven't returned.
He missed 25 races in 2010 when clots were discovered in his legs, and while he was out, he had heart surgery to prevent future clots from moving through his body to his brain.
A blood clot in his right calf found in October sidelined Vickers for the final five races of 2013 because he was taking blood thinners. If he had raced and crashed, the thinners would have made it impossible for doctors to stop internal bleeding.
Recovered and ready to race, Vickers knows the clots could return: "I wouldn't say that I linger on it or I let it kind of affect my daily life. You just kind of have to move on. I certainly am conscious of it, and I make decisions based upon the fact that I could have another clot."
Vickers is always on the move, stretching often and taking walks on long plane flights. "I won't just sit there for long periods of time," he said.
Except when he's behind the wheel of the No. 55 Toyota.
Vickers, coming off a runnerup finish in last weekend's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, is on pace to start all 36 races for the first time since 2011. He started only 11 in 2010 because of the clots, eight in 2012 and 17 last season because of part-time schedules.
But one of those starts last season was a career highlight. After four years of health scares and unemployment put his promising career in doubt, Vickers was the surprise winner of the Camping World RV Sales 301 last July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He snapped a 75-race winless streak and won for the third time in 271 starts.
Back at New Hampshire for today's Camping World RV Sales 301, Vickers recalled all the fond memories of his victory celebration. Drivers saluted Vickers with a wave from the car or a back slap on the way to Victory Lane. Johnson, a close friend, pumped his fist out the window toward Vickers.
"I was out of the car and was told I may never race again," Vickers said. "And to be able to get back into a car at all was a huge accomplishment for me personally. And then to get back in Victory Lane just kind of put it over the top."
notable: Jeff Burton could make the final start of his Sprint Cup career today. He makes his second start of the season in the No. 66 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing. With no other races lined up, Burton could cross the finish line for the final time. He's already made the transition to the broadcast booth and is part of the "NASCAR America" panel on the NBC Sports Network. "I think it's a good chance," he said. "I'm okay with that. I'm really comfortable with what I'm doing." … Aric Almirola's time as the toast of NASCAR came to a crashing halt when the No. 43 spun and smacked the wall during practice. Almirola, of Tampa, won last week at Daytona and qualified 19th for today's race. He will drop to the rear of the field in his backup car. "Our backup car may be even better than our primary car," he said.