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 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 of the Camping World 301 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 pulling for this comeback. One by one, they saluted Vickers with a wave from the car or a slap on the back.
Close friend and former teammate Jimmie Johnson pumped his fist out the window in pure happiness as if he'd won a sixth Cup title.
Vickers tried to celebrate with the fans, but the gates wouldn't open to the grandstands. He still 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. He and co-owner Rob Kauffman were in England for the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Vickers drives part-time 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, 29, snapped a 75-race winless streak dating to August 2009 at Michigan. He made the Chase for the Championship that year with Red Bull Racing.
But he missed 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 following 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.
Kyle Busch finished second, followed by Jeff Burton, pole-sitter Brad Keselowski and Tampa's Aric Almirola. David Reutimann of Zephyrhills was 28th, three laps down.
Tony Stewart was second going into the green-white-checkered restart but 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."
Meanwhile, Vickers thanked MWR for "believing in me and giving me a second chance."
But he wants more.
"I feel like I can win a championship with this team," he said. "That's our goal."
Age record: Morgan Shepherd, 71, became the oldest driver to start a Sprint Cup race. He ran 92 laps and finished 41st.