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NASCAR Notebook: Vickers making a late run at Chase position

Associated Press
The NASCAR notebook …
With only eight races left until the start of NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, it’s nervous time for some of the drivers on the outside but still within reach of a spot in the stock car postseason.
Brian Vickers, 15th in the standings and just 112 points behind Tony Stewart ó currently in 12th, the final Chase position ó is one of them.
Vickers, driving the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota, has put himself in contention with a surge that began last month with a second-place finish at Pocono followed by a fourth-place run at Michigan. In the past six races, he has piled up the third-most points in Cup.
But he still has veteran Kevin Harvick and rookie David Ragan between him and Stewart heading into Saturday night’s race at Chicagoland Speedway.
“I’m excited, and a little anxious. (I) just want to get through it,” Vickers said. “When you’re on the cusp of being in the Chase, there’s a lot of pressure there.
“I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself or the team. We are a second-year team with a second-year manufacturer, so the fact that we’re even in contention for the Chase is fantastic. We’re capable of it with a little bit of luck, hard work and focus. We have to make the ground up. It’s not ours to lose.”
The 1.5-mile Chicagoland oval has been good to Vickers.
He has not finished outside the top 15 and has completed every lap in his first three starts at the Joliet, Ill., track.

MOST POPULAR: More than 1 million votes have already been cast this year for the 2008 NASCAR NMPA Chex Most Popular Driver Award.
The award was first given in 1956 and has been won by some of the best-known drivers in NASCAR history, including Bobby Alison, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson and Richard Petty. More recently, Bill Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have dominated the voting.
Earnhardt Jr. has been the winner of the award each of the past five years, a fact that doesn’t surprise Petty a bit.
“Over the years, his dad was popular. I think Dale Earnhardt Jr. creates so much of his own popularity because he is a completely different individual than the majority,” Petty said. “He talks and tells it like it is. I think people appreciate that.”

HE SAID IT: “We’ve had that consistency and have been able to show up every weekend and have something for ’em. We’re competitive, and that comes from the preparation and pride my guys have at Hendrick Motorsports. Tony (Eury) Jr. and the boys are getting the job done. I think this is a really good opportunity for me to race for a championship this season.” ó Earnhardt Jr., second in the season points, talking about his first season with the Hendrick team.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Halfway through the 36-race Cup season and heading into Chicagoland, there have been 10 different race winners and 11 different pole winners. Forty-six drivers have led at least one lap and 74 drivers have attempted to qualify for at last one race.
Among the manufacturers, Toyota, Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge all have cars among the top 12 in points, and all four have won at least three races.

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