Thursday, August 30, 2012

Vickers deserves to be in chase for full-time ride in 2013

You won't see Brian Vickers competing for a spot in NASCAR's Chase for the Championship in the next couple of weeks. In fact, you probably won't even see him in a Sprint Cup car for the final 12 races of the season, the first of which is Sunday night in Atlanta.
But someone, somewhere, somehow, should find a way for him to be seen in a Sprint Cup car regularly  next season. Vickers has run just six races in 2012 as part of a deal with Michael Waltrip Racing in the No. 55 car. Veteran Mark Martin is set to run 11 of the next 12 races, with team owner Waltrip scheduled to drive the one remaining restrictor plate race at Talladega.
And Vickers knows plenty about restrictions.
He had to take a seat 11 races into the 2010 season due to blood clots in his leg and lungs. He later had heart surgery that summer to close a hole in his heart after a third blood clot was found in his finger. Vickers said he was off of blood thinning medicine in January of 2011 and he then began testing for Daytona in the No. 83 Toyota for Red Bull Racing.
But when Red Bull decided it was pulling out of NASCAR as a sponsor after last season, it left him without a full-time ride. Vickers' best year came in 2009, when he had a win, four top fives, and 13 top 10 finishes and an average finish of 17.3. He raced only 11 times in 2010 due to the blood cots, but returned to a full schedule last year and had less success with an average finish of 20.5.
And while we have only seen the 28-year-old Vickers in six Sprint Cup races this season, the 2003 Nationwide Series champion has been well above average on the track. Even with a skewed average finish due to an engine failure before the Watkins Glen race started that left him with a 43rd-place finish, Vickers has an average finish of 14.3 with three top five finishes this season. He's led 126 laps this season, the 15th most in Sprint Cup and he's led 6.2 percent of the laps he's run this season, sixth best in the series.
So, if we're just strictly talking about driver talent here, shouldn't Vickers at least be in the conversation for a full-time ride somewhere next season?
But lately, his name has not been rumored as a possibility to get that full-time ride in 2013. Vickers will turn 29 in October and he's had some good days in his abbreviated season. But with his age, good health, and obvious talent, better days may be ahead for him and possibly for some racing organization.
He understands what second chances are all about. And it would be quite a surprise if he didn't take advantage of a full-time ride in 2013, if only some owner or sponsor, would him give a chance.

The Sprint Cup Series heads to Atlanta for a 7:30 Sunday night race on ESPN. It's the next-to-last race in NASCAR's regular season with the top 10 in points and the two drivers with the most wins 11th through 20th in points making the Chase for the Championship, NASCAR's version of the playoffs and the final 10 races of the season.
So, yes, that is somewhat of a factor when going through this week's top five picks because there will be some desperate guys out there, some of them really needing a win. So here goes.
1)  Kasey Kahne. If I had one pick this week, this would be the guy. He's got two wins at Atlanta and in 15 starts, he has six top-five finishes. His average finish of 18.3 is skewed by three DNFs (Did Not Finishes). He's also started on the pole twice. I expect him to be a factor for the lead late in the race.
2) Jimmie Johnson. He's also got three wins in Atlanta and is a threat to win anywhere. He's really looking like the eventual champion.
3) Carl Edwards. He's in big-time win mode as he has none this season and sits 12th in points. He also has three career wins at Atlanta so this may be the best shot for last year's runner-up to make the Chase.
4) Tony Stewart. He's got three wins here, but also, just when you think he's in trouble, and he is a bit being 10th in points with just a 16-point lead on Kasey Kahne, he comes through in a big way. He's all but a lock to make the Chase with three wins this season and could be the first to get four.
5) Kyle Busch. He has one win at Atlanta and three top-fives. But that's not the only reason I'm picking him this week. This weekend is the first time this season that Busch is driving in trucks, Nationwide and Cup races. He seems most happy when he's driving a race car (or truck) and the driver sometimes known as Rowdy may be really happy late Sunday night.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda - Greg Biffle. This is the non-pick I may regret. He's been near the front a lot lately and may just have the best chance to challenge Johnson for the title. He doesn't have any wins at Atlanta, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if that changed this weekend.
Here's a look at how last week's picks fared at Michigan.
Kyle Busch  - 6th. He was good all night, but could never make his way to the front as he didn't lead a lap.
Jeff Gordon  - 3rd. Another strong run put him back in the wild-card picture to have a shot at the Chase.
Brad Keselowski  - 30th. Two-race winning streak at  Bristol comes to an end.
Carl Edwards . - 22nd.  He's 12th in points, but is desperate for win with two races left in the regular season.
Kevin Harvick - 15th. Hung around to have an OK night, but never a factor up front.
Here's a look at my results after 24 races and 120 picks.
14  wins
41 top fives
56 top 10s
Grade for the week: C. Edwards was the only driver I had that even led any laps at Bristol. Not good considering there were a season-high 13 cautions. You think maybe Gordon or Busch could've snuck into the lead some how. But not to be.
One last thing: The two drivers in the top 10 in points without a win this season are Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick. The statistics tells us it won't likely happen at Atlanta for them either. Among drivers in the top 10, Truex is ninth in driver rating at Atlanta at 88.9 and Harvick is 10th at 83.5.

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