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HMS Notes: ‘The Rock’

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (Feb. 19, 2004) – During last fall’s NASCAR weekend at North Carolina Speedway, Brian Vickers competed in both the Busch Series and Winston Cup Series (now NEXTEL Cup) races.

During qualifying, the 20-year-old earned his first career Busch Series pole and backed up that effort by qualifying on the outside pole for the Cup Series race, one of two outside poles for the No. 25 team during the last four events of the 2003 season.

That weekend, he finished sixth and 24th in the Busch Series and Cup Series races, respectively.

“After Daytona, Rockingham is a welcomed stop on the schedule,” said Vickers, driver of the No. 25 GMAC Financial Services Chevrolets.  “It’s a place where you have to constantly keep up with the changes, similar to Darlington (S.C.).

“I’d say it’s more of a driver’s track and I like that, of course.  Your line changes throughout a tire run and you have to be able to adjust.”

Vickers finished 39th Sunday in his first career Daytona 500 after being involved in a multi-car accident on Lap 71 while running in the eighth position.

“It’s not how we planned on starting out the season, that’s for sure,” Vickers said.  “I hate it for everyone on the GMAC team.  We had a car that was handling well and we’d made some progress from the back before the accident.  I’m thankful no one was hurt as a result of the pileup.

“There’s a picture in our hauler that says ‘Don’t Ever Give Up,’ and we’re not going to.  It’s all behind us now.”

During the 2003 Busch Series season-opener at Daytona, Vickers finished 42nd before going on to finish eighth at Rockingham, N.C., the next week and eventually win the 2003 Busch Series championship.

As a rookie, the Thomasville, N.C., native has received a lot of advice from veteran drivers, including his teammates Terry Labonte, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.

What’s the best he’s gotten so far?

“To be patient,” Vickers said.  “I think young drivers are cast as being impatient and that’s probably true to some extent.

“I also have to earn the respect of my fellow competitors.  Getting their respect will come by racing with them week in and week out and us becoming familiar with each other.”

‘5’ STILL GOING STRONG:
By running to the finish of Sunday’s Daytona 500, Labonte extended his series-high streak of consecutive races without a DNF (did not finish) to 43.  The last time he failed to complete a race was in the fall of 2002 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

The modern-era record is 56 in a row, set by Jeff Gordon in 2001-02.

SHOW ME THE MONEY:
The $221,975 in prize money won by Labonte for his 20th-place finish in the season opener is the third-highest single-race total of his career, behind only the $376,840 he banked for a victory at Texas Motor Speedway in 1999 and the $229,025 winner’s share at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway in 1996.

ROCKINGHAM TEST FOR ‘25’:
Running laps mainly in race trim, the No. 25 GMAC Financial Services team spent Jan. 21 testing at North Carolina Speedway in preparation for the Subway 400.

GMAC Racing was the only Hendrick Motorsports team to test “The Rock” prior to Sunday’s event.

LABONTE LEADS AT DAYTONA:
Despite a disappointing finish at Daytona, Labonte did manage to lead one lap during a cycle of pit stops 150 miles from the end of the race, marking the first time since 1998 that he’s led the season opener.

The five bonus points helped Labonte secure 19th place in the standings entering the second stop of the season at Rockingham.  He is currently 77 markers behind leader Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“We were definitely looking for better results (at Daytona) than what we left with,” Labonte said.  “Still, everyone but Junior (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) probably feels the same way.

“The team has run well at Rockingham in the past and I’ve had some success there.  With the track’s fall race moving to Darlington this year, it’s the only chance we’ll have to capitalize on our past success, so we plan to make the most of the opportunity.”

VICKERS A ‘VET’ AT ROCKINGHAM:
Vickers has made more career starts at North Carolina Speedway than any other track.

He’s posted one pole and two top-10 finishes at “The Rock” since making the first of five Busch Series starts in November 2001.  The Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate made his first-ever start there in Cup Series competition last November, finishing 24th.

In six total efforts, Vickers has completed all but nine laps at the 1.017-mile oval.

HOLD THE PROVISIONAL:
Labonte’s qualifying speed at Daytona was fast enough to get him into “The Great American Race” without the aid of a car owner’s provisional, marking the 16th straight event in which the two-time champion has done so.

This is his longest non-provisional streak since he put 24 straight races together in 1998.

NEW ‘5’ CAR FOR LABONTE:
For the second week in a row, Kellogg’s Racing will field a new car, entering chassis No. 286 this weekend at North Carolina Speedway.

With two victories and four pole positions on the Sand Hills oval, “The Rock” is one of Labonte’s best tracks.

This will be the team’s only visit to Rockingham this year, as the track’s longstanding late-fall Cup Series date has been transferred to Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.

HOMECOMING FOR DEESE:
Lee Deese, a 29-year-old shock specialist for Kellogg’s Racing, will enjoy a homecoming this weekend.  Now in his fifth year at Hendrick Motorsports, Deese is a native of Rockingham.

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