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Top 20 countdown: No. 16 Brian Vickers

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

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(Photos: Getty Images)
2008 statistics
Finish Poles Wins Top 5 Top 10
19 1 0 3 6
The countdown
No. 20: Martin Truex Jr.
No. 19: Juan Pablo Montoya
No. 18: Kurt Busch
No. 17: Kasey Kahne
No. 16: Brian Vickers
No. 15: Revealed Saturday

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports is counting down the Top 20 drivers going into the 2009 season. The order was determined by a survey, which asked six NASCAR journalists – Ricky Craven, Jay Busbee and Jay Hart (Yahoo! Sports); Jenna Fryer (Associated Press); David Poole (Charlotte Observer); and Nate Ryan (USA Today) – to predict the final standings for the 2009 season. The countdown will conclude on Feb. 6 with the unveiling of the No. 1 driver.

2008 finish: 19th

2009 outlook: For much of the 2008 regular season, Vickers flirted with making the Chase. Though he eventually fell short, the mere fact that he was a contender marked a huge step forward for Team Red Bull.

After all, it was only a year ago when the team was happy just qualifying for a race, let alone actually being competitive in one. Vickers missed 13 races in 2007.

What Red Bull provided Vickers in '08 was power under the hood, evident by the fact that he led a lap in a dozen races, or the same number as Jeff Burton, who wound up sixth in the Chase.

The question now is whether or not the team and Vickers can build on the success they experienced in '08.

On the plus side, Vickers has the support of a deep-pocketed owner/sponsor – in this case they are one in the same – who has the means to make the No. 83 car go fast. What's more, Toyota proved in '08 that it is ready to be a competitive manufacturer in the Sprint Cup Series.

On the negative side, Vickers is pretty much a lone soldier. Unlike every other driver who will make a serious run at the 2009 Chase, Vickers won't have the benefit of an experienced teammate to help.

Fellow Red Buller Scott Speed may very well become a solid stock car driver, but right now he's an unknown quantity with only five Cup starts to his name.

That leaves Vickers as the sole breadwinner in the Red Bull family.

What you need to know: No driver improved more from 2007 to 2008 than Vickers. His 19th-place finish in the standings this season was 19 spots higher than he finished a year ago. David Reutimann moved up 17 spots, the next closest.