Locked and Loaded: With Vickers On Pole, Conract In Hand, Primed to Win?

Joe M.Correspondent IIJune 13, 2009

BROOKLYN, MI - JUNE 12:  Brian Vickers, driver of the #83 Red Bull Toyota, sits in his car during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway on June 12, 2009 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Taking a page from the Dale Jr. playbook, Tony Stewart was able to secure his first career win as driver-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing last weekend at Pocono Raceway. While it Stewart's first win as an owner, it was the thirty-forth for the two-time Sprint Cup Series champion.

Stewart admitted after the race he "hated racing this way" when referencing his fuel-mileage victory and conserving as much as he could before he literally crossed the start-finish line essentially on fumes just as Dale Jr. had done one year ago this week in what I've come to call the "Miracle at Michigan."

I call it this not because of the feat, which has been mimicked multiple times by many drivers in the past, but because to date, it remains the first and only win Dale Jr. has secured for his downward-spiraling race team that just jettisoned the crew chief that made it happen with a Steve Letarte like moment of "genius" that we've come to expect from all the Jeff Gordon glory days of dominance.

Failure to repeat this weekend where Jr. qualified a typical 30th, will put the streak at 36 races in this calender year and give him exactly 2 wins in his last 110 races dating back to the 2006 Rock and Roll 400 at Richmond if you are keeping track at home.

Just sayin'....

Story lines to watch for:

Brian Vickers (pictured). Not only has Team Red Bull's face, and equivalent to Jr. as far as his team's cornerstone won the pole for Sunday, but barring a crash in practice similar to Stewart last week or an engine failure upon final inspection prior to the race, it will be his third of the season and first since Richmond in May.

Rather impressive for the twenty-five year old also who just re-signed a multi-year deal to remain this cornerstone with TRB. No doubt the pressure will be on for him to justify this coveted position at a monster 2-mile track where once you lose the lead (to a Roush car likely) its difficult to get it back.

While Vickers has proven to race better on these "monster" tracks as I call them (Pocono 2.5 miles, Fontana and Michigan 2 miles) it seems as Richmond showed that he has difficult holding on to the pole. I wouldn't be surprised to see him lose it very early in the race, maybe around lap fifteen. Keep in mind it doesn't help that Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson both fast off re-starts and starting grids qualified right behind him.

Still Vickers, with luck he never seems to have, likely just turned in a top-10 finish simply be his fortune of qualifying so well at this venue.

Roush dominance

Not sure if its Brooklyn MI's proximity to the Ford Motor Company, but Roush cars always do well at this, and  these, ahem, "monster" tracks in general.  Roush is having a bit of a down year since opening up with two consecutive Matt Kenseth wins, but its basically a tale of two factions.

You've got the "good" cars: Kenseth, Edwards, and Biffle all of which to no surprise, are current Chase drivers if the season ended today, then you have the two "bad" teams: Ragan who has taken an inexplicable fall from grace this year, and Jaime McMurray whose probably in his last year with the team anyway as the cut-down to four teams is to be enforced next year.

Look for the three former teams to run very well with one of them winning (Edwards) and the other two pulling up the rear and finishing somewhere in their usual high 20's to low 30's.

If you are looking for a dark horse? Why not try Burton who has been running better of late? His career shows he's good for one win a year and seems to do just well enough to stick around all season.

Water cooler talk:

HMS: 2 cars: No. 48, No. 24, SHR 2 cars: No. 14, No. 39, Roush: 3 cars: No. 16, No. 99, No. 17, Penske No. 2, Gibbs: No. 18, No. 11, MWR No. 00, and No. 31 Burton.

This is a sign of NASCAR's partity and a welcome sign from the embarrassing four-car super teams we've seen all too often in the past most recently as last year's final Chase standings.