Brian Vickers passed Tony Stewart with 14 laps to go of the Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to take the race lead that would lead to a first victory in his part time drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, Vickers first Sprint Cup Series win in nearly four years.
Through Vickers passed Stewart and quickly pulled away the Toyota driver had one last obstacle to overcome when a twelfth and final caution came out for debris allowing the pack, led by Stewart, Kyle Busch and Jeff Burton to mount a final challenge.
After the laps under caution boiled the end of the race down to a two lap green-white-checkered finale Vickers’ restart was not the best allowing Stewart and Busch, the latter jumping to the inside to make it three wide into turn one, to try and pry the lead away from Vickers. He, however, held on around the outside of the trio to keep the lead, moving further clear when Stewart ran out of fuel on the back straight, as a track-position gamble went bad at the end.
Somehow the entire field managed to file around Stewart, avoiding an accident that may have required a second green-white-checkered attempt and allowing Vickers to tale a popular win ahead of Busch, Burton, Brad Keselowski and Aric Almirola, for who a similar fuel gamble strategy to Stewart’s paid off.
Having pitted with the vast majority of the field on lap 203 of the intended 301 Steward emerged in the lead and proceeded to lead 84 of the last 100 circuits of the just over a mile track.
With a full tank for fuel expect to last between 70 and 80 laps Stewart’s range – and arguable time in the lead was extended by five cautions that pushed the total above the number of yellow flags seen at the last three NHMS races combined. Of the five one was for debris, two for single car spins and a further pair for multi car accidents triggered by Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick.
In similar circumstances both Kensth and Patrick began three car incidents. Patrick, who admitted being at fault, clipped the #17 Ford of boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse, who in turn pushed Travis Kvapil into the wall. Unlike Patrick, whose car ended up heavily damaged in the accident Kenseth was able to escape without damage after Kurt Busch cut in front of him. Whether contact pushed Busch, who led 102 laps in one of the dominant cars earlier in the race, into the wall, or simply the aerodynamic forces of Kenseth’s proximity is debateable. However, the #78 car spun up the track, tagging Ryan Newman on his way to the outside wall. Kenseth went on to finish ninth.
Though many drivers, including Vickers, pitted under at least one of the later caution periods a group led by Stewart, Almirola and Bobby Labonte stayed out, gambling on fuel mileage good enough and/or enough caution laps to get them to the end of the race.
Labonte, after falling down the order, was forced to pit on lap 294 and though Almirola, who had eight laps later than Stewart under the first caution period of the final 100 laps, was able to ride the gamble to a top five the lap added onto the race by the final caution and the G-W-C finish proved too much for Stewart who spluttered to a 26th placed finish as the final car on the lead lap.
Despite having to start at the rear after his car was ruled too low in qualifying Jimmie Johnson took a sixth place finish, extending his points lead. Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kenseth and Jeff Gordon completed the top ten.