Saturday, October 3, 2009

Why Brian Vickers thinks he can win the Chase

Brian Vickers is the most unlikely of drivers in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup. He secured the final spot in the Chase with a seventh-place finish at Richmond International Raceway and moved from 13th to eighth place in the Chase standings.
What makes Vickers’ surge even more remarkable is that he said Richmond is one of the tracks his team has struggled at in the past. Richmond, New Hampshire and Dover are admittedly three of the tracks he and his team do not like racing at. Partly by design, partly by circumstance, those three tracks have produced poor results for Vickers and his No. 83 Red Bull Racing team for the past three years.
“The two tracks we just left are probably two of our worst,” Vickers said. “I’d like to be a little higher than we are right now in the points. We knew we weren’t probably going to be leading coming out of Dover, but we knew we could at least be within striking distance. I still feel like we are. We’re probably about 30 or 40 points further back than I wish. My goal was to come out of the first two races in the top 10. We came very close to that. We put ourselves in position to do that.”
Vickers was 11th at New Hampshire International Speedway, the first race of the Chase. He was 18th at Dover. After two races in the Chase, Vickers is 10th in the Cup standings and 151 points out of first.
Vickers and crew chief Ryan Pemberton are focused on the next eight races of the Chase. The 1.5-mile ovals, Kansas Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Lowe’s Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, have been the types of tracks the Red Bull Racing team has been focusing on since its inception three years ago. Vickers said that was the approach from the start and it is at those tracks where his team is at its best.
“When we started this team, we had to start with nothing,” Vickers said. “We had to pick, we only had so many resources, we got to focus on something. Let’s focus on mile-and-a-half race tracks. A lot race tracks are high downforce, mile, 1.5 and up. Let’s pull our resources there because it’s going to have the biggest impact. That’s what we did and we excelled at those race tracks and we learned a lot. It took time, but we excelled at them.”
Pemberton added Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, site of race No. 4 in the Chase, to the list of tracks that he expects his team to post a good result.
“The rest of the race tracks, we feel confident,” Pemberton said. “We feel like we got a good set-up for and good strategy for getting the car where it needs to be on these tracks that are coming up: California, Kansas, Charlotte. We feel like we got a good baseline going into that weekend. We do have better races in front of us than behind us.”
It’s taken some time, but Vickers said his team has gained the confidence to be competitive at the 1.5-mile tracks. His only win with Red Bull Racing came at Michigan International Speedway in August, a 2-mile speedway.
“Once we reached that level where we felt like we could win at those tracks, then we started to spread our resources toward the short tracks,” Vickers said. “We got better, but it took time. It’s going to take time. Short tracks aren’t our best tracks. The concrete tracks aren’t our best. I believe that they can be our best. What’s our best right now is what we focused on.”
With four races on 1.5-mile tracks and one at Auto Club Speedway, a 2-mile speedway, Vickers said he expects to rise in the Chase standings. He also is confident in his team’s ability to improve because of how his team performed in the 10 races prior to the start of the Chase.
Vickers scored 1,205 points in the 10 races leading up to the start of the Chase. By comparison, that is more than 100 points better than the top three drivers in the Chase standings. Mark Martin scored 1,074 points in the 10 races leading up to the start of the Chase. Jimmie Johnson recorded 1,049 and Juan Pablo Montoya had 1,096.
Vickers said if his team can repeat that type of run, he will have a chance to win the Chase.
“I’m pleased with making the Chase,” Vickers said. “I’m pleased with what all we’ve accomplished to date. But our goal now is to win the championship. I think we’re capable of it. It doesn’t mean we will. That’s a tall order for a young team. The 10 weeks prior to the Chase we collected more points than anyone on average. That’s essentially what you have to do to win the championship, be the best for 10 weeks. We proved that we could do that. That doesn’t guarantee that we can do it again, but I think we proved that we can do it.”

Photo: Brian Vickers enjoyed a hot streak in the Race to the Chase and came into Richmond in 13th place, one position out of Chase contention. He finished seventh at Richmond and qualified for the Chase. (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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