Brian Vickers’ maiden Chase for the Cup comes to an end on Sunday in NASCAR’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota driver 666 points behind the leader.
But no matter what happens in the Ford 400, Vickers will enjoy his best career finish in Cup competition after putting Team Red Bull into the Chase in its third season. After falling behind early in the title hunt, Vickers’ first Chase appearance has become more about learning lessons for 2010 rather than challenging for the NASCAR title.
Vickers made the 10-race championship shootout after an incredible performance that saw the Red Bull driver erase a 197-point deficit to the 12th and final Chase spot in nine races. He made the party by eight points, edging fellow Toyota driver Kyle Busch in September’s Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
Not much went right from the moment he got in the door. Since the Chase began at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in late September, Vickers hasn’t been able to crack the top 10 in nine starts. His best finish was an 11th in New Hampshire, which he matched in Martinsville a month ago.
With the 2010 season opener only three months away at Daytona in February, Vickers will drive in Miami with one eye on the end of 2009 and another looking forward to next season.
"If we can learn something that can help us get a headstart for 2010, I think to me that’s more valuable right now.” -Brian Vickers
“I think there’s a fine balance there,” he said. “We definitely want to finish better, but if we can learn something that can help us get a headstart for 2010, I think to me that’s more valuable right now.”
But finding a lesson or two to inform his upcoming season might be a challenge in Homestead. While he’s qualified twice in the top 10 in six starts at the 1.5-mile high-banked oval, the track has not been kind to Vickers over the years. His best finish was an 18th in 2004 on his second visit to the track. Last year in the season finale, Vickers started 20th and crossed the line two laps adrift in 32nd place.
But he’ll arrive rested after spending a few days relaxing at his Florida home before the race and will make the half-hour commute to and from work this weekend. He’s looking forward to sleeping in his own bed and not being in a rush to get to the racetrack.
“I like racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway,” he said. “I like the track. I like the multi-groove with progressive banking. I live in Fort Lauderdale, which is about 30 minutes north of Miami. I love the area, the weather and the people.”
Despite finishing last among the 12 Chase qualifiers, Vickers feels the positives in 2009 outweighed the rough ride in the last nine races.
“Obviously, we wanted our performance in the Chase to be much better but, all in all, it’s been a really good year for us,” said Vickers. “We’ve grown a lot as a team, and I think everyone has done a really great job.”
Meanwhile, teammate Scott Speed’s rookie Cup campaign ends Sunday after the former Formula 1 driver climbed a steep learning curve as he continued to figure out his Toyota Camry. Like Vickers, he’ll be looking toward 2010 in Miami, where he’s hoping to finish in the top 35 in owner points. It’s a tall order for the No. 82 Red Bull Toyota driver, who is 114 points out with the final stop left.
Speed heads to Florida confident he can do the job, especially after a solid run at Homestead last year. “I expect us to do well,” Speed said. “Last time we qualified second and finished 16th, so there are some expectations going in there at the end of the year to really kick the weekend off with a bang.”
Speed also ends his Nationwide season in Miami, where he makes his 13th start in Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 99 Red Bull Toyota. He has one pole and seven top-10 finishes.