With remarkable driving savvy, Brian Vickers knew how to save fuel and that was his savior Sunday in capturing the very intriguing NASCAR Sprint Cup CARFAX 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
With fuel a significant issue and some of his closest pursuers running short of their major source of energy, Vickers managed to save just enough to hold off Jeff Gordon and a hard-charging Dale Earnhardt Jr. to complete an amazing weekend at MIS.
With 50 laps remaining, Vickers’ crew chief Ryan Pemberton asked him to conserve fuel so they had a chance to make it to the end of the race without having to make a last-minute stop for a quick squirt of fuel.
“He asked me to give him two laps and I gave him five so he said, ‘Go get it and do what you did here last time,’” Vickers said. “It was a great call. We also took just two tires on our last pit stop to keep our track position and gamble on fuel.”
It was Vickers’ second victory in 195 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and 87 races since his initial triumph in 2006 at Talladega. It also capped a memorable weekend for Vickers, who finished second to Brad Keselowski in the NASCAR Nationwide CARFAX 250 on Saturday after dominating most of the race. Vickers started both races from the pole position, becoming the first driver ever at MIS to win two NASCAR poles on the same weekend. When Vickers captured the pole position for today’s CARFAX 400 on Friday it marked his third consecutive Sprint Cup pole at Michigan.
Vickers’ win pulled him within one spot of securing a championship bid in NASCAR’s Chase. He’s now in 13th, 12 points behind Mark Martin.
Johnson finished 33rd after leading a total of 133 laps leading right up to when he had to replenish his fuel supply with two laps remaining in the 200-lap event. It was the second straight time running out of fuel cost Johnson a probable victory at MIS. Last June he also ran out of fuel while leading with two laps remaining, along with Greg Biffle, to give the victory to Martin. Martin finished 31st in Sunday’s race.
“We’ve won only one fuel-mileage race and it’s just not what we’re good at,” Johnson said. “I think it’s a little too risky for us to even try it. We got lucky once at Phoenix but outside of that we’ve always come up short. I did all I could running half throttle about 80 to 90 per cent of the last run and I don’t know how else I could have saved any more fuel. It sucks to run so good here and not get a victory.”
Gordon was told by his crew chief Steve Letarte he had to save three laps by conserving fuel.
“That’s six miles at Michigan,” said Gordon, who moved up from third to second in the Sprint Cup points race. “I knew I saved a lot on our last pit stop. I felt I saved us at least a lap and maybe two. I really thought the 83 (Vickers) would run out after the 48 (Johnson) ran out but he didn’t so we’ll take another second.”
Of the five leaders late in the race, Earnhardt, running fifth, was the only one who knew he had enough fuel and four new tires to make a legitimate run for the victory. He was moving up smartly and got to third with five laps remaining, but couldn’t make up any more ground after that.
“I was trying to catch them and we were the fastest car until we got to within about 15 car lengths of Jeff and then we got real tight,” Earnhardt said. “At that point someone had to try to chance it and race for the win and it looked like Vickers was the one to do that.”
Carl Edwards, Sam Hornish Jr., Casey Mears, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer, David Reutimann and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top 10.
NASCAR returns to MIS in 2010 June 11-13 and Aug. 13-15. Current MIS ticketholders will receive their 2010 renewal packets in the coming weeks. Race fans who did not have tickets at MIS and would like to take advantage of the track’s guaranteed lowest prices for next season may leave a goodwill deposit by logging onto www.MISpeedway.com or calling 800-354-1010. Tickets for 2010 start at $25 for general admission; and $35 for reserved.