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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Brian Vickers, Red Bull team proving they have the goods to compete for title

Earlier this season, when I was contemplating my Chase picks, the name Brian Vickers kept popping into the back of my head. I figured some new faces were going to make an appearance, but couldn’t nail down exactly who they would be.

But then I recalled what Vickers did last year for the Red Bull team, which entered 2008 without any expectations. Vickers took the team to the next level, threatening to make the Chase until just a few weeks before it began. He put together some amazing runs in 2008, and I figured that wasn’t likely to change in 2009.

So I chose him as a driver who would be competing for the title this fall. So far, I’m happy to say he is living up to the expectations I and others placed on him.

Vickers’ move from a big team, Hendrick Motorsports, to a brand new and untested team, Red Bull, raised many eyebrows at the time. So many people thought Vickers might have doomed his career with the move, and questioned whether he would have the goods to return to the front of the pack.

It was a very bold move that many young drivers would not have risked. But Vickers gave it a shot, and now he’s reaping the rewards.

At first, the critics were right. In 2007, the Toyota teams, including Red Bull, struggled mightily. Vickers made 23 races and did not qualify for 13 others. But once he got going, he became a contender on a regular basis in 2008, and so far in 2009 he has finished in the top 10 three times. If he hadn’t been wrecked by Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Daytona, he might be 4-for-4 and battling for the points lead.

Not bad for a guy many people didn’t give a chance to succeed once he left Hendrick.

It must also be noted that much of the success is seeing is coming from the driver, not the car. His teammate Scott Speed is struggling mightily, and is currently out of the top 35 in points. Meanwhile, Vickers is battling for race wins. So I think it’s safe to say that the talent in the guy behind the wheel has a lot to do with the top-12 points position he can claim.

I’m glad to see teams like Penske and Red Bull putting up some good competition for the usual title competitors. In 2008, the Chase was fought between cars exclusively from Roush, Hendrick, RCR and Gibbs.

I’m looking forward to seeing a little more variety this year, including Brian Vickers.

Truex passes a kidney stone, then races. Ouch!
Here’s Martin Truex’s score card for the weekend.
Finishing position in race -- 10th
Kidney stones passed -- 1

Kurt Busch may have taken the checkered flag, and done a pretty cool backwards-Polish victory lap celebration, but the real champ this weekend was Truex. I’ve never had the (dis)pleasure myself, but from what I’ve heard, passing a kidney stone is one of the most unpleasant experiences one can endure.

To follow that up with a top-10 is pretty impressive.


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