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Hail To The Vickers: Red Bull Driver Wins In Michigan

| , RacinToday.com Monday, August 17 2009
Brian Vickers takes the checkered flag Sunday at Michigan International Speedway. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Brian Vickers takes the checkered flag Sunday at Michigan International Speedway. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Brian Vickers won the fuel-mileage sweepstakes at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday afternoon and in the process took a big step toward making the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.

Vickers took the lead in the Carfax 400 when he passed an out-of-fuel Jimmie Johnson for the lead with just under three laps to go.

From there, Vickers, also unsure if he had enough fuel to make it to the checkered flag, hung onto the lead to win for the first time since 2006.

“I got to tell you,” Vickers said, “when you’re coming to two to go, I’m still sweating bullets no matter how much confidence you got. I know he (crew chief Ryan Pemberton) is. But I know I was. When Jimmie ran out there, I knew at that point we had enough lead on Jeff (Gordon) that all I had to do was get to the finish. But it was definitely a sickening feeling in the bottom of my stomach we could run out at any minute. I felt confident about how much I saved, but, you know, it’s hard not to worry about it.”

And Johnson bummed out.

“Certainly frustrated,” the three-time champion said. “We’ve won one race on fuel mileage ever, it is just not what we are good at. I think it is a little too risky for us to even try it. We got lucky once in Phoenix, outside of that, we always come up short. From inside the car, I did all I could. I mean, I was running half throttle for 80 to 90 percent of that run. I don’t know how else I could have have saved any.

“Just the way it goes. We had a lot of power under the hood. It takes a lot of fuel…we had a great car. It sucks to have stats like we do here, leading laps and not go to victory lane, but we are working hard at it.”

The victory was the first ever for his Red Bull Racing team and it was the first ever for a Toyota Camry at MIS.

Jeff Gordon finished second and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was third.

Earnhardt’s finish was just his second top-five of the season. His other came at Talladega in the spring when he was second.

Right up to the end, it looked like Earnhardt might snare the victory as he was only one of the top three drivers who was carrying a fuel load that was certain to make it to the end of the race.

“We were the fastest car up until we got to within about 15 car lengths of Jeff,” Earnhardt said. “I got real tight. I’m sure by that time, they have to race for the win eventually. Somebody is going to start to try to chance it first. It looked like Vickers was the one that did that. He pushed the No. 48 much harder than probably Jimmie was wanting to go.”

With the victory, Vickers moved to 13th in the chase to get into the Chase. He heads out of Michigan just 12 points behind 12th-place Mark Martin.

The victory for Vickers appeared to be a popular one. On the cool-down lap, Gordon pulled his car even with that of his former Hendrick Motorsports teammate’s to congratulate him.

After the race, Carl Edwards said, “Congrats to Brian. He’s worked really hard to get that win.”

Probably not wishing Vickers well was Kyle Busch. He and Vickers got in a shoving match following Saturday’s Nationwide race.

Martin fell one spot in the standings as he had to slow late in the race in order to not run out of fuel himself. He finished 31st after running top five in the late laps.

By finishing second, Gordon jumped to second in the standings, 284 behind leader Tony Stewart.

The Chase is now just three races away.

Also doing himself well in the chase to the Chase was Clint Bowyer. Bowyer finished eighth. That moved him from 15th to 14th in points and will head to Bristol for next Saturday night’s race just 58 points out of 12th place.

Not doing himself well was Kyle Busch. Busch, who started the day 13th in points, finished the day 15th after finishing 23rd.

Edwards finished fourth and jumped from sixth to fourth in the standings. Finishing behind him Sunday was Sam Hornish Jr.

Edwards, too was low on fuel at the end. He offered a pool explanation for what he was feeling and the importance of not draining the tank before hitting the finish line.

“It’s very important,” Edwards said. “We talked about it on the radio. It’s not that much to race like that – you want to race for the win and go out there and go for it, but we couldn’t run out of fuel. This Ford Fusion gets great fuel mileage – I’m just proud of that, because a couple of those guys ran out, and that’s excruciating. That would be terrible.”

Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, are now 0 for 2 on fuel gambles at Michigan in 2009. Johnson was leading the June race at MIS when he ran out of fuel. That allowed Mark Martin to get the victory.

Knaus explained his decision to go for the victory instead of pitting for fuel by saying, “Here’s the deal. It’s just like the last race here. When you lead all the laps; when you get to the end, you don’t want to just fall back and settle for a fifth or a sixth-place finish. That’s not what we wanted to do. Fortunately enough, we’re in a position to where if it would have worked out, we would have been great. It would have a storybook ending for us, but unfortunately it didn’t work out.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| , RacinToday.com Monday, August 17 2009
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