LEXINGTON, Ohio -- Brian Vickers could be forgiven if his rollicking week produced a distraction from his bid for a second NASCAR Nationwide Series crown. After all, he secured his future for 2014 and beyond Tuesday as the full-time driver for Michael Waltrip Racing's No. 55 Toyota in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
With that order of business settled, though, Vickers has his eye on finishing strong in the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, starting with Saturday's Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Vickers, who won the Nationwide Series championship in 2003, is 18 points behind leader Austin Dillon in the standings. But even with the scant margin, Vickers sits fifth -- the result of the Nationwide title fight evolving into a multicar logjam at the top in recent weeks.
Though the chance exists that Vickers could emerge with the points lead this weekend, he says his goals -- long- and short-term -- haven't changed.
"I think it's going to come down to the wire, and I'd love to come out of here with the lead in the points but when you're 18 points out, Vickers said. "If you're only 18 points behind one guy it would be very easy to come out of here with the lead. With it being so many guys so tied together, it's unlikely that you're going to gain that much on them all at once, but it's possible.
"Our goal is to try to win the race and gain as many points as possible, but if we're in position toward the end of the race whether it's fuel mileage or how I'm going to approach a restart, a trophy's different. For a win, it takes a certain level of risk and you get bonus points for that, but the difference between fifth or sixth or third or fourth ... you still want it, but you've got to be a little smarter about that one point when the points battle is so close."
AMBROSE'S EXPERIENCE: Marcos Ambrose, the only full-time Sprint Cup driver entered in Saturday's race, has a rich road-racing pedigree to lean on at Mid-Ohio. But when it comes to actual on-track experience, the Aussie is at the same level of most Nationwide regulars.
"Until this morning, I had never seen this track," Ambrose said. "I watched it on TV, though."
Ambrose hasn't competed in the Nationwide Series since August 2011, when he won the series' next-to-last race in Montreal. His four career road-course wins in the series ties him with Canadian Ron Fellows for the most Nationwide road victories of all time.
PIT NOTES: Saturday's race will be the 21st NASCAR national series race and first ever for the Nationwide Series held in Ohio. Mid-Ohio will become the ninth Buckeye State track to have hosted a national NASCAR event; Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, joined the list last month with its inaugural Mudsummer Classic for the NASCAR CampingWorld Truck Series. ... French driver Anthony Gandon will attempt to qualify for his second NASCAR Nationwide Series race. The 23-year-old driver from Bayonne, France -- a regular in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series -- is driving for Rick Ware Racing and he finished 32nd in his debut last week at Watkins Glen. The stock-car series in Europe is in its second year under the NASCAR umbrella and recently signed a long-term entitlement sponsorship deal with Whelen Engineering.
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