NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2009 Season Review: Brian Vickers

2009 Ride: No. 83 Red Bull Racing Team Toyota
2009 Sponsor: Red Bull
2009 Owner: Dietrich Mateschitz
2009 Crew Chief: Ryan Pemberton

Stats: 36 starts, 1 win, 4 top fives, 13 top 10s, 6 poles, 5 DNFs, 12th in points
Best Finish: 1st, Michigan (August)
Avg. Finish: 17.3

High Point: Take your pick between Brian Vickers‘s fuel-mileage victory in the CARFAX 400 at Michigan or his much-needed seventh-place run at Richmond that earned him a berth in the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. The Michigan win was the Thomasville, N.C. driver’s second career Sprint Cup victory and TRB’s first after two and a half years in the series. More importantly, the triumph moved the erratically performing No. 83 team to 13th in points – only 12 outside of the coveted top-12 required to be Chase eligible with only three races remaining before the 10-week championship run.

Four weeks later, in arguably the most exciting and dramatic race to make the Chase in the championship point format’s history, Richmond came down to a three-way battle between Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Vickers for the final slot. Kenseth, who had never failed to make a Chase field, struggled from the drop of the green and lost his narrow points lead for the 12th and final Chase-eligible position in the standings to Vickers as the race progressed. Vickers then only needed to keep the younger of the Busch brothers in sight to become one of the elite 12 to contend for the Sprint Cup championship over the following 10 races. Vickers’s solid top-10 performance sealed the deal, leading to the high point of his Sprint Cup career to date.

Low Point: That would have to be the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. After struggling for the first half of the season, the team and driver had seemed to find their stride — especially during the nine races leading up to the final race at Richmond before the 12-driver field would be determined. During that span, the 26-year-old Vickers never finished outside the top-12 and steadily progressed up the point standings from 17th to 12th. Optimism for Vickers and his team’s chances over the following 10 races had to be high.

However, during the Chase, all hope for a storybook ending to the season slowly and painfully faded, as the six-year veteran crumbled during the championship run. Vickers recorded two of his season’s five DNFs during the playoffs, and never finished inside the top-10. The final standings told the story of his 10-race meltdown – winding up 723 points behind Jimmie Johnson, he set a record for the largest points differential between first to 12th in Chase history.

Summary: Despite a shaky fall, the Vickers train is still on track and steaming along nicely. There is no doubt that the dismal performance during the Chase was disappointing, but the season, on the whole, was a rousing success. Significant progress continues to be made by both the driver and team each year as they continue to build themselves into a weekly contender for wins and the series championship. Remember, following a difficult first year for Vickers with the new-to-the-sport Toyota and Team Red Bull in 2007 – when just qualifying for races was a struggle – Vickers finished a semi-respectable 19th in points for 2008. So, that is 38th, 19th and now 12th in points for the young veteran in the first three years. Put those results on a graph, and you have a very impressive visual aid that continues to show a slow, steady uphill climb to the top.

Breaking into the elite top-12 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is no small matter and one that Vickers and his team, led by first-year crew chief Ryan Pemberton, can be proud of. This season, he proved that he belongs with the series’ elite, and left little doubt that Team Red Bull is capable of competing up front.

2009 Team Ranking: Not a lot to argue here: Vickers is the alpha male in the two-car Red Bull stable. His teammate, rookie Scott Speed, continues to struggle and seems unable to get a handle on big-time stock car racing. This year more than any other, the organization’s pride and bragging rights fell on Vickers’s accomplishments as Speed’s No. 82 team actually backtracked – finishing outside the Top 35 in owner points one year after sneaking in by Homestead.

Off-Track News: Despite recurring rumors throughout the season that the Red Bull Racing Team and Toyota Racing Development may part ways at season’s end, in early September RBRT and Toyota confirmed that the two have extended their three-year agreement through 2010.

Red Bull Racing andVickers also came to terms on a multi-year contract extension in August.

2010 Outlook: When, prior to 2007, Vickers voluntarily left one of the best gigs a driver could have in NASCAR – a full-time ride with Hendrick Motorsports – he took one heck of a chance. But he certainly has landed on his feet, as his RBRT No. 83 looks to provide him with security and success. Toyota Racing Development has steadily improved their chassis and engine package, with conventional wisdom saying that they will only continue to improve. The Red Bull Racing Team now has three full seasons of knowledge to draw from, and Vickers knows that he has the ability and the equipment to take it to the next level.

Future progress through the ranks may not come with the leaps and bounds that Vickers has experienced during his first three years, however. The hurdles in front of him are now powerhouses like Roush Fenway, Gibbs and Hendrick, teams not exactly falling backwards anytime soon. But after proving themselves by making the playoffs this season, he and his team have shed their “small-fry” label and look to be more than up to the task to keep fighting. Look for Brian Vickers to be a mainstay for the foreseeable future amongst the Sprint Cup elite, winning races and competing for championships with RBR.

2007 Frontstretch Grade: C-
2008 Grade: B+
2009 Grade: A-

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