BUSCH: Charlotte: Vickers' graduation and notes of interest

Vickers plans to get high school diploma - right after qualifying for NASCAR Busch Series race at Lowe's Motor Speedway. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 21, 2002) - Brian Vickers acknowledges he's growing up fast, perhaps too fast. But he'll live ...

Vickers plans to get high school diploma - right after qualifying for NASCAR Busch Series race at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 21, 2002) - Brian Vickers acknowledges he's growing up fast, perhaps too fast. But he'll live with that. It's the price that must be paid, for going fast.

Friday night, Vickers will slow down, and call a personal timeout.

After attempting to qualify his No. 40 Engineered Machined Products/U.S. Army Dodge for the Carquest Auto Parts 300 (Saturday, 1 p.m./FOX) - and then, if he has made the race, taking part in the final practice known as"Happy Hour" - he'll leave Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. and drive 55 miles to Trinity, N.C., for his high school graduation ceremonies.

Vickers will graduate with honors (Beta Club) from Trinity High, thanks to a 4.43 grade-point average. As that GPA indicates, finishing high school never was up for debate in his family, despite the lure of a ride in the NASCAR Busch Series, Grand National Division - the nation's No. 2 motorsports series.

"My father always had a rule that I had to keep a' B' average in order to race," said Vickers, an 18-year-old who is amid a 24-race, 2002 NASCAR Busch campaign.

Vickers responded by getting"As". That effort mirrored what he always has put forth on the race track.

Vickers prefaced his four-race NASCAR debut in 2001 by running in the Hooters Pro Cup stock-car series. He was the HPC Rookie of the Year in 2000; in 2001 he won two races and had 14 top-10 finishes. Thus far in 2002, he has started five NASCAR Busch races, with one top-10 finish.

Vickers looks forward to his graduation, especially since he missed his prom, the weekend of March 23. In his defense, he was sort of busy - driving his Dodge around the Bristol Motor Speedway half-mile oval, one of the toughest tracks in all of NASCAR. Vickers took solace by comparing his race car to the limousines or parents' cars his friends were renting for prom night."I can assure you none of them had a hot rod like I [drove at Bristol]," he said.

Likewise, none of his classmates will have a graduation week like his.

"It's shaping up to be a crazy, but exciting week," Vickers said."It's a week I am sure not to forget.

"It's been difficult, going to school and racing. It took a lot of scheduling [work] to get the whole thing balanced. And probably, having to do both probably took a little bit from both.

"This whole growing-up thing has hit me [quickly]. A lot of people get 15 years to do what I've had to in just one or two years, as far as figuring it all out. It took a lot of hard work, but I had to stay with it."

News of Note

* The No. 3 is back...Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 3 Oreo Chevrolet) has entered the Carquest Auto Parts 300, returning the fabled No. 3 to the race track. Earnhardt has raced in one NASCAR Busch Series race this season; he won the season-opening event at Daytona International Speedway.

* So is Jeff Green...Defending Carquest Auto Parts 300 champion Jeff Green (No. 21 Rockwell Automation Chevrolet) resumes his limited NASCAR Busch schedule this week. Green has run eight of the season's 12 races thus far. Green won the NASCAR Busch Series championship in 2000.

* Special focus for Hendrick...Ricky Hendrick (No. 5 GMAC Financial Services Chevrolet) is especially pumped this week. Lowe's Motor Speedway is what he calls his"hometown" track, and Carquest is one of his team's associate sponsors. To prepare for Saturday's race, Hendrick tested for two days earlier this month at LMS, posting the fifth-fastest time among teams testing."We have always run really well [at LMS]," said Hendrick. "I qualified third there [in October 2000], my career-best in a Busch car. We are back to do it again."

* Wishing Purvis well...Jeff Purvis (No. 37 Timber Wolf Chevrolet) remains in Lehigh Valley Medical Center in Allentown, Pa., recovering from injuries sustained last Sunday at Nazareth (Pa.) Speedway. The facility does not allow flowers, but well-wishers can write Purvis. The address: Room 207 TN ICU, Lehigh Valley Medical Center, 1200 S. Cedar Crest Ave., Allentown, Pa. 18105.

* Etc....At the start of this week, there were a total of 50 entries for the Carquest Auto Parts 300, including those of NASCAR Winston Cup regulars Jimmy Spencer (No. 1 Yellow Chevrolet), Jeff Burton (No. 9 Gain/Febreze/Swiffer Ford) and Michael Waltrip (No. 99 Aaron's Chevrolet).... CART series regular Christian Fittipaldi will attempt to make his first NASCAR Busch start of the season this weekend, in the No. 30 mike's hard lemonade Chevrolet.

On The Right Track

* Jason Keller (No. 57 Albertson's Ford) leads the NASCAR Busch Series championship standings, and could be set to pad that advantage. Keller, a four-time winner already this season, finished third in last year's Carquest Auto Parts 300. In the LMS fall race, the Little Trees 300, he finished second. Keller has never won a race at LMS.

* Of the six NASCAR Busch races won by Mike McLaughlin (No. 18 MBNA Pontiac) in his career, one came at Lowe's Motor Speedway - the fall race in 1998. McLaughlin also has three other top-five finishes at LMS, all in fall NASCAR Busch Series events.

What's the Word?
"To say I'm ecstatic is an understatement." - Jamie McMurray (No. 27 Williams Travel Centers Chevrolet), after finishing fourth - his first career top-five finish in NASCAR Busch Series racing - last Sunday in the Stacker 2 200 at Nazareth (Pa.) Speedway.

From The Archives
In 1982, the NASCAR Busch Series began, having evolved from the old NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Division. In the new series' first race at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Harry Gant drove a Pontiac to victory, with Dale Earnhardt, Morgan Shepherd, Tommy Ellis and Bobby Allison rounding out the rest of the all-star top five.

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Michael Waltrip , Jason Keller , Jimmy Spencer , Jeff Green , Christian Fittipaldi , Mike McLaughlin , Ricky Hendrick , Jeff Purvis , Morgan Shepherd , Brian Vickers , Bobby Allison , Harry Gant
Teams Williams