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Teenagers Finish 1-2 at Darlington

 

  • Aug 30, 2003

DARLINGTON, S.C. (Aug. 30, 2003) – Going into Saturday’s Winn-Dixie 200, the common thinking was that a veteran driver would steal the show at Darlington Raceway, one of the most difficult tracks on the NASCAR Busch Series schedule.

The consensus seemed to be that a “Buschwacker,” like Kevin Harvick, Michael Waltrip or Greg Biffle, would take home the trophy.

Not so fast.

Enter teenagers Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch, who pulled off a stunning finish at Darlington by sweeping the top two positions and topping off their performance with a pair of synchronized burnouts on the frontstretch—an exclamation point to a historic afternoon reminiscent of Hendrick Motorsports’ 1-2-3 finish at the 1997 Daytona 500.

Vickers, 19, earned his second Busch Series victory in his 50th career start since joining the circuit two years ago. Half of those starts have come since signing with Hendrick and the No. 5 GMAC Financial Services team in December, while his pair of wins have each come within the last month.

“It was a great day,” said Vickers, whose first career win came on Aug. 2 at Indianapolis Raceway Park. “The guys did an awesome job. They’ve done an awesome job all year, but they really came through when they needed to today. The biggest thing today was racing the track and not the other cars, and I believe we did that as a team.

“They say it takes a veteran to win here, and as a team I think we’re a veteran team. To be able to come here and win—there’s so much history here and to be able to win here in the last weekend of the Labor Day weekend event, in front of all these fans who toughed it out in the heat—it’s awesome.”

Busch, just 18, drove his Chevrolet to a second-place finish at Darlington—his second runner-up showing in just three career Busch Series starts since joining the No. 87 ditech.com team in February.

“I can’t thank Rick Hendrick enough for having the faith to put me behind the wheel of this race car,” Busch said. “These guys did a great job setting this car up.”

Vickers started third at Darlington, tying his season-best qualifying effort, and quickly moved into second at Lap 8. The team’s first pit stop came under caution at Lap 57, with the GMAC Racing crew nailing a perfect four-tire change that would move Vickers to the lead with a full gas tank and adjustments to the air pressure and track bar.

After leading for 17 laps, Vickers visited pit road once again at Lap 76, taking four Goodyear Eagles and a track bar adjustment. With many of the leaders staying on the race track, the No. 5 Chevrolet restarted in seventh on Lap 83.

The team continued to dig, moving to second on Lap 120 before pitting for the final time six laps later. The GMAC over-the-wall crew performed yet another stellar stop, beating Waltrip’s No. 99 Chevrolet off pit road for the race lead.

Vickers paced the final 20 laps and stretched his advantage to more than 10 car lengths before taking the checkered flag 1.977 seconds ahead of the field. He led a total of 38 laps and became the first Busch Series regular to win at Darlington since Jeff Green in the spring of 2001.

Driving the No. 87 ditech.com Chevy, Busch began the 147-lap event in the eighth position—his third top-10 qualifying effort in as many Busch Series starts. Battling a tight-handling race car, he finally pitted at Lap 57 for tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment.

With improved handling, Busch held a spot in the top 10 until pitting again less than 20 laps later, taking another set of tires and fuel.

As many of the front-runners pitted for service at Lap 76, the No. 87 Chevy stayed on the race track, moving from 16th to first as the stops cycled through. From there, Busch led a half-dozen laps and never left the top five for the remainder of the event.

Making his final pass on Lap 140, Busch moved to second after getting by Waltrip and held the position for the last eight circuits before joining Vickers in the post-race celebration.

GMAC Racing’s performance at Darlington vaults Vickers from fifth to third in the Busch Series championship standings, just 67 points back of leader Scott Riggs with nine races remaining on the schedule. Vickers now has 15 top-10 finishes this season, tying him with David Green for most on the tour.

Since joining Hendrick Motorsports, Busch has earned a pair of victories and two pole positions in ARCA Series competition. He has also qualified in the top 10 for each of his races in both series, with the exception of the May ARCA event at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, where time trials were rained out.

The Busch Series will next visit Richmond (Va.) International Speedway on Friday, Sept. 5 for the Funai 250. The race will be carried live on TNT and MRN Radio beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

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