His favorite book is The Count of Monte Cristo, but in his first full-time season in the NASCAR Busch Series, Brian Vickers has been counted on in his Monte Carlo.
Vickers' three wins and 21 top-10 finishes helped Chevrolet claim the Busch Series manufacturers' championship and he is looking to wrap up the driver's title on Saturday at Homestead in the Ford 300 (12:00 noon ET on NBC).
The 20-year-old native of Thomasville, NC is leading a six-way battle for the Busch Series title that will finally reach a conclusion this weekend. He leads David Green by 22 points, with the top six drivers within 89 points of each other.
"This is a championship-caliber group and I'm very proud of what we've been able to do together this season," Vickers said. "The (points) leader has been cursed so far this year, but we're going to do all we can to break that trend."
Vickers is looking to become the youngest driver to win the Busch Series championship, and the first to do it for Hendrick Motorsports, who have won five championships in the Winston Cup and Craftsman Truck series.
"It would just be great to win this championship for everyone," admits Vickers, who will be the full-time pilot of Hendrick's #25 Winston Cup entry. "It's hard to believe that the one thing missing from the trophy case is a Busch Series title. Rick (Hendrick) and Ricky (Hendrick) gave me the opportunity of a lifetime this season and I wanted to do the best job I possibly could for them because they stuck their necks out for me."
Green has been in this position before. He finished second in the point standings in 1996, just 29 behind champion Randy Lajoie. He has three wins this season and was at the top of the standings two races ago. A 16th place finish at Phoenix dropped him to fourth before a 10th place run at Rockingham last weekend pulled him back up to second.
"It's going to be a fierce battle," Green says. "I've seen a lot of different scenarios play out and I think this is by far the most exciting. It has been a total turning back of the clock for me. I feel like I'm 25 instead of 45."
Ron Hornaday is third, 39 points behind Vickers. He is shooting for his best finish since 2000, when he was fifth, 1,135 points behind Jeff Green.
"It's a great year so far but we still got the last race to go," Hornaday says. "It's anybody's chance."
Jason Keller finished second in the championship standings one year ago and currently sits fourth, another 70 points behind Vickers. He'll have his work cut out for him on Saturday after qualifying 30th at the 1.5 mile oval that has been reconfigured with 20 degree banking.
"Some of us are going to adapt quicker than others and I'm one that hasn't adapted to this racetrack as quickly as I needed to," Keller says. "I've been fortunate to be part of these points battles the last couple of years. It's been a great season in a lot of areas but we haven't accomplished our goals in a lot of others."
Scott Riggs finished 10th last year and was the Busch Series rookie of the year. He is fifth -- 85 points behind Vickers -- and will start 20th on Saturday.
"I think the other five that don't win are all going to be sad or disappointed because you don't know what's going to happen next year," says Riggs, who will drive the #10 car as a Winston Cup rookie in 2004. "No matter how strong you might be this year or how good you feel about next year, you never know what's around the corner."
Bobby Hamilton Jr. has won two of the past four races and has put together a remarkable run of six top-3 finishes in the past eight races. He hasn't been able to climb higher than sixth in the standings, but has made up a lot of ground on the top-5 and will start on the front row on Saturday after qualifying his #25 Ford second.
"One thing we've been doing for the last month is forgetting about the points situation -- just lead laps and win races," Hamilton says. "If we can lead every lap, we're going to. If we can win the race, we will. It's almost unbelievable we're in this position."
In a season where the points system has come under fire in the Winston Cup series because Matt Kenseth all but wrapped up the championship weeks ago, half a dozen drivers in the Busch Series are waging one of the most historic battles for the championship in the history of the sport.
"We all know what we have to do," Hamilton says. "When it's all said and done, you really have to be careful not to put yourself in position to make a change in the championship for something you've done. You just got to do your normal deal that you've been doing all year long to get you in this position, and if you do that, whatever's doing to fall, is going to fall."