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Vickers earns his spot

Associated Press / September 14, 2009

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Few drivers willingly leave Hendrick Motorsports, the powerhouse race team that runs up front and challenges for championships on an annual basis.

In one of the most head-scratching career decisions in recent NASCAR memory, Brian Vickers did just that.

He walked away from a dream job at the end of 2006 to take a chance on a brand new race team. All Red Bull Racing really had to offer was a concept - they’d spend endlessly to build an energetic organization with Vickers as the star - and he jumped at the opportunity.

Just three seasons in, Vickers proved his decision was the right one. He used a steady 11-race push to grab the final spot in the Chase for the championship with a strong Saturday night run at Richmond.

Vickers stepped up to finish seventh and steal the spot earmarked for either Kyle Busch or Matt Kenseth.

“We picked one heck of a night to have a great car,’’ he said.

But it’s about so much more than one night for Red Bull.

There was the disastrous 2007 debut, when management tried but failed to model the race team after its Formula One organization. He missed 13 races and finished 38th in the standings. Then general manager Jay Frye restructured the organization.

It set the groundwork for this breakthrough third season, which was marked by Vickers giving Red Bull its first victory last month at Michigan and now a berth in the Chase.