Each week before the final ten races of the season, Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifier Brian Vickers will give his thoughts about the race for the championship.
In this first installment, Vickers talks about racing his way into the Chase with a seventh-place finish at Richmond, edging Kyle Busch by eight points and overcoming a 20-point deficit to Matt Kenseth; the difficulty he had in passing Sam Hornish Jr. late in the race; the prospects of a championship for his #83 Red Bull Toyota team, which scored the most points of any team in the eight races leading to NASCAR's postseason; and what kind of performance might be needed to win the title.
"Going into the race, I knew I had to beat Matt. (Greg) Biffle was ahead of him. That was a potential spot if something went wrong. I didn't really know exactly what the order was past Biffle. I knew roughly what it was, but our main targets were Matt and Biffle, and, obviously, I knew Kyle was close behind us. I had to be ahead of Matt and Biffle, and ideally, ahead of Kyle. …
"I focused on our race, our car. I focused on the car ahead of me to pass, what I could tell (crew chief) Ryan (Pemberton) to make the car better, and that was it. It wasn't until the very end of the race, honestly, that the topic (of the Chase standings) even got brought up. … We came in the pits (under the final caution) and lost three spots, and I didn't know exactly what the numbers were, how close I had to be to Kyle. And Ryan came on (the radio) and said, 'Here's the deal: Matt's far back, he's probably not going to make it. You've just got to stay close to Kyle, and it's in your hands now. Sorry we gave you a bad pit stop.'
"I think he said maybe within a couple spots or so (of Busch), but I didn't know if that meant three or four or two. For me, in my mind, I just had to get as close as I could to him and pass him, if possible. We didn't try to overthink the whole Chase, and where who's at. We just tried to run our race.
"It would be easy for me to say that I'm mad at Sam Hornish Jr., but I'm not mad at him. I'm disappointed. If the roles had been reversed, I never would have done that to him. If I knew what was at stake for him and what was at stake for me, if the roles were reversed, and he was racing for the final spot in the Chase, and I was just racing for the difference between sixth and seventh in one race, I would have let it go, unless, maybe, my teammate was the guy he was racing. He was right on my door. It was everything I could do not to wreck. At the time I felt like I needed to pass him, and I did, and then Kyle dropped back one spot.
"I feel like we have momentum on our side, but it's also no guarantee. We've got a lot of hard work ahead of us. I think we've proven in the last 10 races what we're capable of. We're capable of collecting the most amount of points in the series over the course of 10 races, and the bottom line is that's what it takes to win the championship. In the Chase format, whoever collects the most amount of points over ten races wins.
"We're capable of it, but it doesn't mean that we will. Obviously, we've got stiff competition: Jimmie (Johnson) going for his fourth, Jeff (Gordon), Tony (Stewart), Mark (Martin) -- Mark's done really well when he hasn't had problems. So we're going to really have to stay on top of our game.
"I'm a big believer that history can be an indication of what's to come, but it's not always set in stone - it's not a predictor. It's not a guarantee. I would be more apt to look at the last ten races (preceding Richmond) than I would at last year's last ten races. The sport evolves so fast, and what makes a car go fast and a setup that works, and a chemistry and a communication group of individuals - people come and go from teams. A lot happens in a year. A lot can change.
"Obviously, the 48 team (Johnson) has set itself apart as being very good in these last ten races. The last three years, they were also very good the entire season. This year, Tony's had the best average. He was leading the points by a good bit coming into the last race, so if I had to pick, based on the first 26 races, I'd have to pick Tony. Based on the last three years, I'd pick Jimmie. Based on the last ten races, I'd pick us. So it really mixes it up."
As told to Reid Spencer