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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

2007 Driver Previews: Brian Vickers

Brian Vickers Age: 23
1 win, 5 top 5’s, 9 top 10’s, 14 top 15’s
Avg start: 16.8 Avg Finish: 19.2
Points Standing: 15th Driver Rating: 76.3
#83 Red Bull Toyota Crew Chief: Doug Richert

If Brian Vickers got his fortune told this time last year, it would go something like this:
“After four years driving for Hendrick Motorsports you will leave for a brand new Toyota team. Then you will be banned from team meetings and given the cold shoulder by teammates. On the bright you will finally get your first Cup win. The bad news is it will be one of the most unpopular wins in recent years, coming at the expense of a teammate, plus the most famous driver in the sport. Other than that, it should be a pretty uneventful year. Good Luck.”

That is Vicker’s season in a nutshell. He had a lot of positive things happen, but they were usually overshadowed by a negative consequence. To his credit, Vickers handled things with maturity and tried his best to focus on racing. The biggest story for his season was his announcement he was leaving Hendrick Motorsports. Shortly after he signed with the upstart Team Red Bull.

Vickers' 2006 season was solid but not spectacular. He scored his first win and improved two positions in the points, but it was a very similar season to 2005. He would have some nice runs coupled with several mediocre ones. In fact he didn't have back to back top tens until the 29th and 30th races. As the season progressed his finishes did improve overall. The first 18 races his average finish was 20.9, while his average in the second half was 17.5. It was even better during the Chase when he averaged 14.8, including four top tens. The other improvement forVickers was finishing races. He had a mere 2 DNF's, down from four in 2005, and seven in 2004.

2007 might be the most challenging season yet for Vickers. A brand new Toyota team has lots of questions to answer. One big asset is his crew chief, Doug Richert. Richert helped Greg Biffle won 10 races in the last three years and is highly regarded in the garage. His experience dates back to working on Dale Earnhardt's team in the early 80's. Pairing a veteran crew chief with young driver is a popular and often successful combination in Cup.

Richert's first task is ensuring Vickers makes every race. the good news is Vickers is an excellent qualifier. In 2006 he had 14 top ten starts including one pole at Texas. His career average start is 16.0. With no owners points to start this will be paramount in 2007. Vickers must make the first five races based on time. He shouldn’t have a problem, but things can happen in qualifying. A flat tire, a bobble in a turn or a bad setup could foil the best plans. A missed race will not ruin his season, but would be a setback.

At Hendrick, Vickers was able to gather information and advice from established veterans like Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte and Jimmie Johnson. His new team will not have that luxury. Vickers teammate is rookie AJ Allmendinger. Making a switch from open-wheel racing to stock cars presents a huge challenge for Allmendinger. That places any expectations for success in 2007 squarely on Vickers.

Vickers' specialty is 2.5 mile tracks. He is an excellent plate racer at both Daytona and Talladega. He nearly won the Daytona 500 and the spring Talladega race. His average finish at Pocono is 8.5, including three top five finishes. Vickers is still refining his skills at short tracks, but he does excel at the 1-mile flat tracks like Phoenix and Loudon.

The move marks a fresh start for Vickers. He took a lot of criticism in his three years in the #25 car. The switch was widely questioned in the media and assumed it was based on money. Surely millions of dollars played a part, but there are plenty of reasons for Vickers to switch teams. Sometimes people lose sight of the fact that Vickers is only 23. He is a talented driver that has dealt with a lot in his young career. He won a Busch Championship before he could legally drink Busch beer. He endured the Hendrick plane crash in 2004. As long as he was at Hendrick he would be fourth priority. A switch to Toyota gives Vickers the chance to be the number one driver and be recognized for his talent instead of a cog in the Hendrick machine. It's a bold move, but at least he has the chance to shine on his own. Now the rest is up to Vickers.

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