Brian Vickers, 20, finishes ninth in the Ford 300 to hold off David Green by 14 points.
By BRANT JAMES
Published November 16, 2003
HOMESTEAD - Douse him with ginger ale. The kid's a champion, but he's not old enough for champagne.
Twenty-year-old Brian Vickers became NASCAR's youngest champion on Saturday, staying close enough to sentimental favorite David Green to capture the Busch Series title by 14 points as Kasey Kahne won the Ford 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Vickers finished 11th. The 45-year-old Green was ninth, but needed to finish seventh to win his first Busch title since 1994. Vickers began the day with a 22-point bulge over Green.
"It was a cat-and-mouse game, like a chase," Vickers said. "When he passed me I knew I had to keep up if I wanted to stay in the points lead.
"This is just amazing."
Kahne won for the first time on the Busch Series in 54 starts, leading the final 29 laps after leading just 18 all season.
Green was out of a full-time ride and working as a spotter before Ricky Hendrick retired from driving and put Green in the No.5 Chevrolet for the last six races of 2002. Hendrick, the son of team-owner Rick, chose Vickers for the full-time ride this year, however, and Green latched on with Brewco Motorsports to resume his career. His bid for a storybook ending started with much adversity on Saturday. Green fell three laps down after 11 laps when a rear tire went flat, then was penalized for using an illegal entry into pit road.
He worked back through the lapped cars to be just one lap down with 83 to go, and gave himself a chance at the title with a bold pass with 53 laps left. On a restart, Green passed Dave Blaney to be the highest-scored car a lap down, seconds before David Stremme spun out to draw a caution. Back on the lead lap, Green blazed by Vickers with 38 laps remaining.
Green was emotional but vindicated after struggling so hard to regain a spot in the series.
"2003 is a year when my team brought me back to life," Green said. "Nobody would even give me a shot last year and when my team said it's not over yet, I knew it was game-on. Brian Vickers is the champion, but he knew we were here today."
Scott Riggs can commiserate with Green about what could have been. He entered fifth in points and 85 off the lead but on the first lap was sent into the wall on Turn 3 when teammate Jon Wood rammed him from behind and Casey Atwood smashed him as he slid down the banking. Wood was making his first Busch start of the year as a late entry for ppc Racing.
Vickers, meanwhile said he planned a G-rated celebration before he runs in today's Ford 400 Winston Cup race.
"We're in Miami and we'll have some fun," he said, "but we'll try to conduct ourselves with some respect."