CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Brian Vickers was just another new kid in the Busch Series a week ago. Then he had an almost-certain victory taken from him and the list of big-name drivers rallied around him.
From Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, all supported the 19-year-old after NASCAR ruled against a pass he attempted in the Busch race at Texas last weekend.
''Winston Cup drivers that I didn't think even knew I was racing have called me,'' Vickers said. ''They just said they were real impressed with the way I have handled this situation, that they wish I had won the race and that I got robbed.''
That's been the overall perception in the days since Vickers, the youngest competitor in NASCAR, lost his chance at his first-ever NASCAR victory when the sanctioning body ruled against him.
After dominating most of last Saturday's race, Vickers was black-flagged for pulling alongside Chad Blount's lapped car before the start/finish line on a restart with 22 laps to go.
Vickers and his Hendrick Motorsports team argued that he had to drive around Blount because Blount had a problem on the restart, and not moving to the left of him would have caused an accident.
NASCAR didn't care, and Vickers had to pit for a stop-and-go penalty that erased any chance of winning.
Even worse, when he got back on the track he was stuck in a pack of traffic and unable to avoid a late wreck that left him with a devastating 25th place finish.
Near tears after the race, Vickers is slowly bouncing back behind the support of the NASCAR community.
''I have to respect NASCAR's decision, it's their show,'' he said. ''But I still disagree with it, and I still think they made a mistake. It's a real tough pill to swallow, to have a win taken away like that.
''But what has helped is I had so many crew chiefs, car owners and drivers come to me after the race or call me after the race and tell me that it was a bad call. That makes me feel a little better.''
There will be more chances for Vickers, starting this weekend when he makes his first visit to Talladega Superspeedway.
Already, the controversy at Texas has helped him: Earnhardt Jr. told him he wouldn't hesitate to draft with him this weekend.
Like any hungry, young competitor, Vickers is anxious to get back to the track and work toward his first victory. And a win would prove he's where he belongs, even at such a young age.
Vickers was most recently known as the kid who skipped his prom last year to race at Bristol, then juggled May race activities at Lowe's Motor Speedway with his graduation from Trinity High School.
He made 21 Busch Series starts last year in a car his father partially owned, but didn't have sponsorship lined up for this year. As late as January, Vickers had no idea if he'd be in Daytona a month later for the season-opening event.
Then he got a call from Ricky Hendrick, the 23-year-old son of car owner Rick Hendrick, who fields cars for Gordon, Johnson, Terry Labonte and Joe Nemechek and the Busch car Ricky drove until a shoulder injury led to his retirement. Ricky's first job as owner of the No. 5 Busch Series car was to find a full-time driver to replace him.
After a short search, he picked Vickers.
Vickers knows that because of his age and his lack of experience, the Hendricks were gambling on him.
But growing up traveling from race to race, moving to Greensboro and into his own apartment as a senior in high school, and chasing after a NASCAR dream have made Vickers far wiser than his years.
''I grew up really fast just from racing,'' he said. ''When you are 14 racing late models, they say 'You're supposed to be 16 just to be here and you really should be 18, so act like it.' So you give up being a kid pretty fast and concentrate on racing.''
His first hard lesson came last week in Texas.
Not even a meeting with NASCAR, a review of the rule book or countless replays have convinced Vickers he was wrong.
''I didn't get the answers I was looking for, not from talking with them, not from the rule book and not from watching the replays,'' he said. ''I still think they were wrong, but NASCAR isn't going to admit they made a mistake.''
But NASCAR did admit it erred last weekend, confessing Tuesday that it was wrong on another passing under caution ruling that went against Gordon in Sunday's Winston Cup race.
There was no mention of Vickers' situation.
So Vickers is trying to move on, rally his team and get ready for Saturday's race at Talladega.
''This is just one incident in a long season and it will be put aside,'' he said. ''If anything, it has lit a fire. The fire inside of me to win a NASCAR race is just that much stronger. This just put rocket fuel on top of it. I want to go out there and prove to NASCAR we deserved that race.''
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