Category archive: Brian Vickers

Last year was lauded for having a variety of winners and wild endings. While this year hasn't lived up to the crazy finishes (last year set a high bar), we've kept up the string of variety in Victory Lane, which shouldn't surprise anyone.

Clint Bowyer marked the 12th driver to win a Cup race this season, the 13th consecutive year we've had at least a dozen different winners. Before this 13-year run, we had a stretch of eight straight years without more than 12 winners in a year.

And while we have some overlap from year to year, we're seeing new names pop up, too. Whether it's Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Bowyer, there's no shortage of drivers with the equipment and ability to win, and Michael Waltrip Racing has shown that we're only adding to the pool.

MWR already has eight top-5 finishes this season, the most its ever had in a season, and is just one short of a team record for top-10s in a season.

And who would've thought that Bowyer could win a race on a road course? Oh yeah, he was the Eliminator pick on Thursday.

But also, we're getting to a point where road-course races have never had so many drivers capable of winning on straight-up ability. The past eight Sonoma races have been won by eight different drivers, and the past six all picked up their first career road-course win.

Trivia break: Who is the only driver to pick up his first career Sprint Cup win at Sonoma?

Two For The Road (Course)

Let's heap some much-deserved praise on Kurt Busch and Brian Vickers for finishing third and fourth, respectively, at Sonoma.

For Busch, it's not only his first top-5 finish since joining Phoenix Racing, it's also tied for the second-best finish in team history, and the first time it's had a top-5 finish outside of a restrictor-plate race.

Vickers picked up his second top-5 finish in three races driving the 55 this season for MWR. Vickers' average finish this season is a 9.0. The sample size is small, but that does rank as the fourth-best in the series. It's also the first time Vickers has ever finished in the top 10 at Sonoma.

Trivia break: Besides Busch, who are the three drivers with top-5 finishes for Phoenix Racing?

Piq-uet Of The Litter

I usually don't cover much Nationwide in my little corner blog, but the history of Nelson Piquet Jr.'s win Saturday at Road America was too much to ignore.

First, he was the first Brazilian-born driver to win a race in the Cup, Nationwide or Trucks series, and just the fifth foreign-born driver to win a Nationwide Series race.

And thanks to my friends at Racing Resources, I found out that Turner Motorsports now has five Nationwide Series wins from five different drivers.

They're the first team, Cup, Nationwide or Trucks, to ever get its first five wins from five different drivers.

Piquet was the first of those winners to lead more than one lap in his win. That also gives Turner Motorsports the record for most Nationwide victories where the driver leads just one lap with four, thanks again to Racing Resources.

Trivia break: Who were the first four drivers to win a Nationwide Series race for Turner Motorsports?

Trivia Break Answers

1. Juan Pablo Montoya picked up his first win at Sonoma in 2007.

2. Brad Keselowski won at Talladega for Phoenix in 2009, and Geoff Bodine and Mike Wallace each had a top-5 in the Daytona 500.

3. Mark Martin, Justin Allgaier, Reed Sorenson and James Buescher have won Nationwide races for Turner.

Just because there was no Sprint Cup race last weekend doesn't necessarily mean that it was an off weekend.

There was news aplenty, with assurance that Kevin Harvick would be staying with Richard Childress Racing for at least 2010 and Brad Keselowski would be driving for Penske Racing next season in a car that won the 2008 Daytona 500.

Oh, and let's not forget a Nationwide Series race that can only be described as wet and wild. By race's end, it more resembled an obstacle course from Double Dare than a NASCAR race. How is that reference for you? Too early 1990s?

As much as I love the unpredictability of Silly Season, there's still the business (or bidness, if you're so inclined) of the Race to the Chase. We all have our picks and favorites, we've spent the past couple weeks debating them and working the calculator (or adding machine, based on your preference for retro machinery) to figure out every possible scenario.

But we're returning to the track with NASCAR returning to racing on Labor Day weekend in the southeast. Although it's not Darlington, I'll still call it the Southern 500. And that's coming from a guy who hails from upstate New York. Land of the 10-month winter and spiedies. I could go for one of those right now. I'll let you guess which one.

What to look for Sunday night? Well, let me tell you what I'm looking for.

Dominating deuce

The NASCAR season is a long one, I don't think there's any disputing that. I can prove that by the fact that there's often snow on the ground back home from when one season ends to when the next begins.

But reflect back to the Atlanta race earlier in the season, when Kurt Busch flat-out dominated.

Perfect driver ratings don't happen often, but Busch drove the No. 2 car to a perfect 150.0 in the win, 25 points better than Jeff Gordon. Busch's average position in the race was 1.5, and he ran the fastest lap on 81 of the 330 laps. No other driver had more than 33 fastest laps, and that was also Gordon.

That was months ago, and while Busch has almost certainly locked up a Chase spot, he hasn't had a top-5 finish in six races. This could be his chance to reassert himself as a championship contender.

What's the Roush?

When my NASCAR fantasy league had its auction draft before the season, the top target on my list was Carl Edwards, since our points system rewards wins handsomely. I managed to get him, but spent a fair share of my salary cap on him.

Yet, here I sit at the beginning of September in the middle of the standings, getting more wins out of my other drivers -- Brian Vickers and Joey Logano -- than Edwards (who broke his right foot Wednesday but is expected to drive this weekend).

Yes, Edwards and his teammate Greg Biffle, both preseason championship contenders based on how they closed out the 2008 season, are winless, but that doesn't mean they aren't running well. And Atlanta could be the place for them to get in the win column, based on these numbers.

Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle ranks at Atlanta since 2005
Stat -- Edwards -- Biffle
Fastest laps run -- first -- third
Green-flag speed -- first -- fifth
Avg. position -- second -- fifth
Driver rating -- second -- sixth

Setting the pace

Since I'm a dork, and I have the excuse of having a NASCAR statistics blog to write, I was sifting through the loop data statistics for the season and went down the list of the fastest laps run.

This stat basically tells you who're the drivers to beat out there, who is laying down the hot laps time after time. To me, it's one of the clearest indicators of who are the drivers to beat in the championship race. So I can't say I was surprised about the name at the top, but I was surprised at the spread between him and the field. Accompanying list!

Most fastest laps run, 2009 Cup season
Jimmie Johnson -- 709
Mark Martin -- 422
Jeff Gordon -- 407
Greg Biffle -- 387
Kurt Busch -- 356

Three Hendrick drivers at the top, and don't forget about Jeff Gordon, who few are talking about as a threat to Jimmie Johnson's run at four in a row. If you were looking for Tony Stewart, he's eighth on this list, behind Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.

That's all I've got for you this week, enjoy Atlanta. Or is it Hot-lanta? (Checks papers.) No, it was Atlanta, I was right the first time.

I don't remember too many races to the Chase that were quite as exciting and uncertain as this one is shaping up to be.

Well, this is just the sixth year of the Chase, so there's not a whole lot of history there, but still, you'll be hard-pressed to find a closer race for the last few spots in the Chase.

And because I'm a researcher, and it's sort of my job, I'd like to clear things up for my loyal readers. Unmurky the Chase waters, if you will.

Ding, ding, ding. Ladies and gentlemen, as far as I know, it's a first in Internet history. I am now the first person to ever use the word "unmurky." But that's beside the point, unimpressive as it is.

Oh, let's just get on with a special off-week edition of the blog, where I give you some scenarios down the stretch, with just two races left. All these scenarios take into account that the drivers will start the Chase cutoff race at Richmond.

The in

Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are already in the field, nine titles between them, and nobody can take that away from them. Unless something unforeseen happens like a rules violation or some sort of drug scandal is revealed.

And we all know that never happens in NASCAR. Um … moving on.

Oh-so-close

Three drivers can clinch a Chase spot in Atlanta regardless of what those further down in the standings do, provided they simply start the race at Richmond.

The first is fourth-place Denny Hamlin. The dark-horse championship contender doesn't even need a top-10 at Atlanta, which is good since he has only two of those in eight career starts at the track. Hamlin needs to just finish 12th, or 13th if he leads a lap, to officially punch his Chase ticket.

One spot below him in the standings is Carl Edwards. Edwards was getting a lot of preseason love for his championship chances, but that's cooled as he's been unable to find Victory Lane in the Cup Series this season. Despite that, Edwards can wrap up another Chase berth by finishing fourth at Atlanta, or fifth if he leads a lap. He's won there three times in 10 starts, including his first career win.

The other driver who controls his own destiny at Atlanta is the driver who won the first Chase, Kurt Busch. Busch needs to do just slightly better than Edwards, finish third or better, or fourth if he leads a lap. That seems doable for Busch, who won the spring race at Atlanta in dominant fashion.

Not so clear

Here's where things get interesting. Oh, who am I kidding? They were always interesting.

Seventh to 12th in the points are separated by just 50 points and none are more than 84 points behind of 13th-place Kyle Busch. Six drivers -- Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Juan Pablo Montoya, Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth -- cannot clinch at Atlanta based on what they do themselves, but that doesn't mean they can't give themselves some breathing room.

Of these six, only Martin and Kahne have won at Atlanta. But Martin's wins came in 1991 and 1994, while Kahne won slightly more recently, in 2006.

Outside looking in

Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers have had their differences, but they find themselves in similar positions with two to go before the Chase field is set. Meanwhile, Clint Bowyer and David Reutimann are a little farther back, but they, along with Vickers and Busch, could get back into the top 12 with a good run and some degree of fortune at Atlanta.

Those four are also in a position where if they win, they cannot be eliminated.

Meanwhile, things aren't looking so good for Jeff Burton and Marcos Ambrose. These drivers aren't eliminated quite yet, but they have some ground to make up, and have to do so in a hurry. Any driver 162 points or more behind 12th after Atlanta will be eliminated.

And I'd like to take this space at the bottom of the column to send my regards to drivers such as Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick. They're among the drivers, everyone 19th or lower in points, who are officially eliminated from Chase contention. Maybe next year, fellas.

So, those are the numbers; I'll leave it at that for now. Who do you think is in or out? Leave your comment below, and it's time-stamped, so you can throw it in everybody's face if you were correct. I'll vouch for you.

I decided to watch the end of the PGA Championship live this week with some friends, and then that night caught the Michigan race on my trusty DVR. Hooray for technology!

So right after I watched Y.E. Yang outduel Tiger Woods down the stretch, to the chorus of "I bet Tiger ties him on this hole" coming from people across the country, I watched the Michigan race.

And, just like Yang in the the PGA Championship, it was Brian Vickers winning his second career race, outdueling the proven winner down the stretch. Even though fuel mileage played a big role in Vickers' win, there was no question that he had the car and ability to win.

Flash back several hours, when I worked on the 10 a.m. edition of "NASCAR Now," and after a discussion with Boris Said, we agreed that Vickers was due and this was the race for him to make a statement and have everything come together. Once again, hooray for spot-on analysis!

Which begs the question, well, maybe not in your head, but definitely in mine. If Vickers and Kyle Busch had thrown down on pit road after Saturday's Nationwide race, who would have had the better end of that deal? I have my own thoughts, but share yours in the comments section. And while you're at it, let me know who you think would win a total NASCAR rumble.

It may not be important, but it'll be fun to think about. Now, on to my normal stuff.

He's got wings

Overall it was a good weekend for Vickers. Second in the Nationwide race and a win in the Cup race. Remember Cup win No. 1 for Vickers? It was back with Hendrick Motorsports with the team that went on to become Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s team.

And Junior, along with Jimmie Johnson, was also involved, as Vickers bumped his then-teammate Johnson as they made the move to pass Junior for the lead. Strange how these things come full circle.

But Sunday was also a big day for the Red Bull Racing Team. It was its first win as a team. Red Bull joins Stewart-Haas Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing and (depending if you consider it a newly formed team) Richard Petty Motorsports as teams to pick up their first wins this season.

According to fellow researcher Chris Lees, the last time four teams got their first win was in 2001, when Andy Petree Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, PPI Motorsports and Evernham Motorsports all won their first race. And that brings me to …

Making a pass

In a week that saw some criticism about the racing provided by the new car -- formerly known as the Car of Tomorrow until it became used regularly on todays and yesterdays -- the action was great at Michigan.

Although the cars weren't side by side for the lead throughout the entire race, they were four-wide further back in the pack. Drivers were picking lines going from inches from the wall down to the apron.

If you thought there was a lot of passing, you're thinking correctly. According to NASCAR's Sultan of Stat, Mike Forde, there were more than 3,900 green-flag passes during the race, the second-most in a non-restrictor plate race since they started keeping track of the statistic in 2005. How about an accompanying list!

Most green-flag passes since 2005 on non-restrictor plate tracks
August 2008 Pocono -- 4,636
August 2009 Michigan -- 3,902
August 2009 Pocono -- 3,896
September 2009 California -- 3,753
August 2007 Pocono -- 3,529

Don't forget those Pocono races are 500 miles, while Michigan is just 400.

Trivia break: Which race set the record for green-flag passes dating back to 2005?

A Nice View

Sure there's some fun leftover nuggets from Michigan. Thanks for asking. It featured the 13th different winner in the past 13 Michigan late summer races, the longest active streak for any single race at any track.

Carl Edwards' fourth-place finish gave him a career average finish of 6.1 at Michigan, the best among any driver who's made at least five starts there.

But my favorite nugget took place on Lap 43. Jeff Gordon led that lap, the only lap he led that day despite finishing second. That was the 1,000th time he'd led in a Sprint Cup race, the only active driver who's reached that mark.

Trivia break: What active driver has led the second-most times?

Trivia Break Answers

1. Bobby Hamilton won at Talladega for Petree, Sterling Marlin won at Michigan for Ganassi, "NASCAR Now" analyst Ricky Craven won at Martinsville for PPI and Bill Elliott won at Homestead for Evernham.

2. The April 2007 race at Talladega featured 16,788 green-flag passes and was won by Jeff Gordon.

3. By leading four times at Michigan, Mark Martin has now led 751 different times in his career.