Darlington has been Brian Vickers' favorite track to race, but after Saturday at Homestead Miami Speedway things may change: it will forever be the site where Vickers won his first NASCAR Busch series title.
The championship race was a nail-biter down to the closing laps, as it remained unclear whether or not David Green or Vickers would leave Florida with the trophy. Both Vickers and Green experienced difficulties during the 300-mile event, leaving the title pretty much up for grabs with forty laps left to be completed.
"I don't get nervous very often but this was one of the most nerve racking races of my life," said Vickers of the races closing circuits.
Vickers, the 20-year-old from Thomasville, NC, fell off the lead lap mid- race after making a lengthy pit stop to fix front left fender damage. He was running in 20th position one lap down when a caution flag allowed him to be the "lucky dog" recipient, placing the No. 5 Chevy back on the lead lap. Vickers worked his way back to an 11th place result, which was enough to secure his first NASCAR title.
"We're so proud of Brian, it's a great, great job," said car owner Ricky Hendrick.
Vickers adds the Busch series title to an already impressive racing resume. He is a three time World Karting Association national champion and the 2000 USAR Rookie of the Year.
When Vickers wanted to make the jump to elite stock car racing, he turned to his family. He drove three Busch races in 2001 and 21 races in 2002 for a team that his father funded solely on the hopes that Vickers would be noticed by an uber-competitive team. The gamble of the family fortune paid off, when Vickers was plucked by super-star race shop Hendrick Motorsports to run a full time schedule replacing Ricky Hendrick in the No. 5 Chevrolet for 2003.
Vickers win marks the first Busch championship for Hendrick Motorsports. The team has previously won five Winston Cup and three Craftsman Truck titles.
"Oh man this feels great," an exuberant Vickers stated. "I want to thank everybody. I am so happy to give Ricky and Rick and Papa Joe Hendrick their first Busch series championship.it was amazing. We did what we had to do, it's just awesome. I don't know what else to say."
This season Vickers scored three wins, 13 top fives and 21 top ten finishes on his way to becoming the youngest champion in any of NASCAR's top-three national series (Cup, Busch and Truck) in the history of the sport.
It was fitting that young gun Vickers gave veteran Green a run for his money on his way to his history making title bid.
David Green may have come up 14 points shy of his second series championship, but he gets the award for the most dogged determination of the race. At lap 11, it looked like Green's title hopes had slipped into the abyss after a flat tire and pit road penalty placed him three laps down.
But Green's thirst for a second Busch trophy was unquenchable as he dug in and managed to regain position on the lead lap at 147. Green passed Dave Blaney, just prior to David Stremme spinning and bringing out the caution flag. That pass on Blaney made Green the first car one lap down, and the "lucky dog" rule placed him back on the same lap as the leaders at lap 148.
"We got three laps down but my team fought back hard," said Green. "Last year nobody would give me a shot to drive. I was washed up -- whatever.so no I am not going to hang my head low. I came back and passed Brian and yeah, he won the championship, but I passed him and made him sweat a little bit."
Green went on to finish ninth in the event, and second in standings.
Ron Hornaday, Bobby Hamilton, Jr. and Jason Keller round out the top five in the Busch series championship.
The 109-point margin between positions one through five is the closest in series history.
Scott Riggs, who was considered a leading contender for the title, saw his dreams go out the window in a crunch of sheet metal on the races first lap. As Riggs came out of turn three at the 1.5-mile speedway, he was bumped from behind by Jon Wood. The nudge set off a chain reaction crash, sending Riggs sideways -- where he was hit twice more by Casey Atwood and Tim Fedewa before clearing the field.
"Got run into," said Riggs. "I hate it; it's not what we deserve. It was a pretty hard hit.this is definitely not the way we wanted to end the year."
Riggs entered the event fifth in standings, 85 points out of the lead, he will finish the year sixth in series rankings.