The last time that Brian Vickers was able to get into victory lane, it came under a cloud of controversy at Talladega Speedway on October 6, 2006. Vickers, who already knew that he would be replaced by Kyle Busch at the end of the 2006 season, was not very happy with the way the organization was treating him by not allowing him to attend any of the team meetings.
Some fans said that because of the way he was treated, that he chose to take his frustrations on any Hendrick driver that would get in his way of getting his first victory. So as the story goes, Johnson who was just getting ready to pull along side D.E.I. driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the last lap for the lead. Vickers, who had been drafting with Johnson, seized the moment and clipped Johnson on his right rear quarter panel, which turned Johnson into Earnhardt knocking them both out of the race.
"I got into Jimmie and I hate it," Vickers said. "The last thing I wanted to do was wreck either one of those guys, but what happened, happened. It wasn't intentional." Jimmie’s crew chief Chad Knaus seen it another way. "I just don't think (Vickers) has the talent to understand what he has underneath him."
The last lap move didn’t settle to well with the fans, as well as Jimmie or Chad. After Jimmie climbed out of his wrecked car, he was not too pleased with the way his teammate raced him at the end. "I had a great chance to make up some points, and I end up getting wrecked by a teammate…"It's absolutely uncalled for, completely out of line. I'm racing for a championship, OK? The only way to win [the race] was to crash us both."
Now here we are almost three years later, and all the frustrations from that somber day for the 48 team are all forgotten. It was evident as Vickers and Johnson were interviewed together during the rain delay, while talking about a career change becoming meteorologists. While the joking was going on during the delay, little did they know that in a couple of hours they would once again be battling at the end of the race for the win. But this time it would be Vickers who would desperately need the win instead of Johnson, to keep his chances alive of making the chase for the Sprint cup championship.
Johnson, who took the lead on lap 166 from Vickers already knew that fuel would once again be an issue as it was back in June. This was when he and Roush Fenway driver Greg Biffle were battling their fuel tanks for the win, during the waning laps of the race. But in the end they both fell short on the last lap, giving the victory to Johnson’s HMS teammate Mark Martin. Who was also conserving fuel while watching the drama unfold from the third position.
Vickers who had Johnson in sights during the final green flag run, used a lot more patience as well as better judgment, while drafting behind the 48 in order to save as much fuel as possible. “I don’t know how hard he (Jimmie Johnson) was pushing his car. I definitely had a little bit left – I was trying to push him to use more fuel. I felt like I was comfortable where I was using my fuel.”
As the laps wore down, so did the fuel that was in Johnson’s tank and once again the reigning Sprint cup champion would run out of fuel. But this time he would fall two laps short, while dominating the race once again leading a race high 165 laps. "I'm certainly frustrated," Johnson said. "We've won one race on fuel mileage, ever. It's just what we're not good at. I think it's a little too risky for us to even try it. We got lucky once in Phoenix. Outside of that we always come up short."
Meanwhile Vickers would go on to win the second race of his Sprint cup career, while giving Toyota its 17 win overall. With the win Vickers would also become only the sixth Toyota driver to win a Sprint cup race, giving Red Bull their first victory as well as Toyota‘s first victory at Michigan. Vickers was asked if he felt that he had conserved enough fuel to win the race. “Yes and no – we went through it several times and he (Ryan Pemberton, crew chief) was asking me to give him two laps and I gave him five.”
After Johnson ran out of fuel, Vickers talked about what was going through his mind while watching Johnson pull down to the apron. “It was tough – there was part of me that was terrified because I knew there was a chance that we would run out, but there was a part of me that was kind of excited because I felt like I knew what we needed to save and we went through the exact same thing last time.”
How much of a morale booster does a win of this caliber do for a team this late in the season, especially now that Vickers is sitting 13th spot, just 12 points out of the chase? “It does a lot for the morale. I think everyone has been very proud of the accomplishments we've had over the past several years, leading laps, sitting on poles.”
When you begin to look at some of Vickers accomplishments? The biggest one has to be the respect that he has gained from not only his fellow drivers, but also the fans that supported this win. Unlike the controversial win back in 2006, this win very easily overshadowed any doubt that the fans may have had about his driving abilities.
Vickers not only maintained his composure under pressure, but most of all he showed a level of maturity that should see him back in victory lane before the end of the season. “Today I think we obviously learned how to win. It's an exciting day.”
RIP, NASCAR, Part 3
2 months ago