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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Watch out, Chase bubble drivers … Brian Vickers is ready to knock you out

To call this weekend a success for Red Bull Racing’s Brian Vickers would be the understatement of the century.
-- On Friday, he was fastest in practice, then won the pole for the Cup race.
-- On Saturday, he won the pole for the Nationwide race, then came within a half-lap of taking the checkered flag in the Nationwide race.
-- On Sunday, he took a fuel mileage gamble with 51 laps to go, then went on to Victory Lane for the second time in his career after Jimmie Johnson ran out of gas with a few laps to go.

It’s pretty clear that something about MIS agrees with Vickers, and he has even more to celebrate than all his accolades this weekend … he is only 12 points out of the Chase, after six straight weeks of finishing 11th or better. Six weeks ago, he was 197 points out. If he can make up that huge margin in six weeks, I see no reason he won’t break into the Chase standings as soon as Bristol, the only X factor being whether someone knocks him into a wall at Bristol.

The question now becomes: If Vickers keeps up his momentum and makes the Chase, who falls out? It could be Martin, but his Hendrick equipment should keep him in unless he has bad luck. That leaves three likely options: Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman. All three have been shaky lately, and my money would be on one of the Roush drivers.

Getting back to this weekend, it was big for a few reasons. Not only did Vickers get a win for the first time in almost three years, Red Bull Racing got its first Sprint Cup win, and Toyota earned its first win at Michigan International Speedway – which is near the headquarters for the Big 3 automakers.

With so much focus in America on supporting our U.S. automakers, and hearing what many people in Michigan have to say on a regular basis about foreign cars, I’m guessing Vickers’ win won’t go down in history as one of the most popular at the track, especially after the comments he made after winning the pole (Vickers basically said he didn’t even know where the headquarters for the Big 3 were anymore, as 2 of them were now owned by the government … Ouch!)

No one is saying that Brian Vickers is going to start winning races on a regular basis right away, but it’s clear this Red Bull team has turned a corner, and better get off their butts and sign Vickers to a new contract before he decides to leave. If he is their lead driver into the future, look for the team to continue growing its ability to compete with the Hendrick juggernaut that currently rules the sport.

And look for Vickers to battle those same Hendrick cars this fall when he qualifies for the Chase.

Other notes …
-- Kasey Kahne needs to stop hitting people and causing wrecks by overdriving his car. In the past three races, he’s hit Montoya twice, and hit Hornish to cause the big wreck at Watkins Glen. Calm down, Kasey, or everyone is going to have a grudge against you.
-- Kyle Busch is in rough shape. At 70 points out of the Chase with three races to go, he has to be picture-perfect at Bristol and finish toward the front, or the Chase might be out of his grasp. What would be amazing is if Mark Martin and Kyle Busch, with a combined 7 wins, both missed the Chase. It easily could happen.
-- Vickers is the 13th winner of a Cup race this season. It’s good to see so many drivers coming out on top, rather than the same four of five drivers as it happens so often.
-- Schedule reminder: Truck race is Wednesday night from Bristol, with Nationwide Friday night and Cup Saturday night … one of the best weeks of the year in the minds of most fans, including myself.


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