A week after earning his first Sprint Cup victory in nearly four years, Brian Vickers kept the momentum at Chicagoland
The Toyota driver entered the STP 300 fresh off his first Sprint Cup win in nearly four years the previous weekend at New Hampshire, then spent the middle part of the week at a tropical wedding for one of his dear friends. The only thing that slowed his weeklong stride Sunday was difficulty on pit road.
Vickers still managed a fifth-place finish despite some sluggish pit work and a late brush with the wall. His third top-five in the last four races helped him retain his sixth-place ranking in the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship fight, but he moved just one point closer to the top spot, 45 points behind new leader Sam Hornish Jr.
“It was tough. You know, very frustrating,” Vickers said. “I just hate it for Dollar General, Toyota and all these guys. They deserve a win. I know those guys were doing their best, but we got killed in the pits today. Undoubtedly, we probably passed the most amount of cars. We had a car that could win, especially on the long run. The first few laps, those guys were quicker, but once they started sliding around, man, we were so fast. But by the time we would catch them at the end of a run, it was time for another pit stop and the cycle would start over again.
“It was still a solid points day for these guys and for all of us, a top-five. Some of the other guys we were racing had a rough day, and that’s not what we want, but unfortunately that’s what we need because we’ve had a lot of bad days ourselves.”
Statistically, Vickers ranked sixth in the field in the total amount of time spent on pit road Sunday. But the deficit he faced in positions lost on the exchange of pit stops was damaging.
Vickers fell two spots in the first round of pit stops, five spots in second wave under caution, then a final four-spot drop in the last yellow flag -- each time knocking him to the bottom or out of the top five. The final stumble moved him from fourth to eighth in the running order with 26 laps remaining, putting him at another deficit at crunch time.
After that, Vickers mounted a furious charge but swiped the Turn 2 wall while chasing Parker Kligerman for fifth place with 11 laps remaining. He eventually grabbed the spot, but was left to wonder, “what if?”
“We got behind the 77 (Kligerman) and just lost the car,” Vickers said. “We were just lost in the wash and it sort of took off on me, but it wasn’t too hard. I don’t think it affected the outcome tremendously. Maybe without that, we might’ve gotten one more spot. I just don’t know that we had the time and the track position to run down those other guys.”
A silver lining may be coming this Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the Nationwide Series will race for only the second time. Vickers, however, has the benefit of seven Sprint Cup starts at the historic Brickyard, including a pair of top-five finishes.
“I think Indy’s a place where I have a lot of experience compared to a lot of the guys in the series. Some of them have none; some of them only have one year. But there’s a few guys, like Elliott (Sadler), who have as much or more experience, so it’s not going to be a walk in the park by no means. ...
“No one’s given up yet. We know we’re still in it. We’ve got a lot to do and we can’t have bad days. It was a tough day. It is what it is. I know those guys are working hard, so I hate to beat up on them but that’s what got us today.”