Closing in on the checkered flag with mostly fumes in his gas tank, there were only two possibilities for Brian Vickers.
Run out of gas and probably blow any chance at making NASCAR's Chase for the Cup, or make a bold move toward title contention by winning the race.
After a surprising gamble on gas by his crew chief, Vickers drove conservatively to conserve fuel. Then Vickers pounced when race leader Jimmie Johnson's fuel tank ran dry, taking the lead with two laps to go and holding on to win the Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday.
Vickers had confidence in crew chief Ryan Pemberton, but he also had a sick feeling in his stomach during the last few laps.
"I've got to tell you, when you're coming to two to go, I'm still sweating bullets, no matter how much confidence you've got," Vickers said.
Vickers won the second race of his career, boosted his chances of making the Chase and delivered the first checkered flag for Red Bull Racing.
It was the second time in two races at Michigan this season that Johnson's crew gambled on gas and lost. Johnson, who has never won at Michigan, also was in the lead in June when he ran out of fuel, handing a victory to Mark Martin.
"Certainly frustrated," Johnson said. "We've won one race on fuel mileage ever. It's just what we're not good at. I think it's a little too risky for us to even try it."
Jeff Gordon finished second, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards and Sam Hornish Jr. Series points leader Tony Stewart, who clinched his spot in the Chase by starting Sunday's race, finished 17th.
With three races left before the cutoff for NASCAR's season-ending championship Chase, the win provided a significant boost to Vickers' chances of qualifying. Vickers jumped one spot in the standings to 13th, and is only 12 points behind Martin for the 12th and final Chase qualifying spot.
Martin apparently ran out of gas on the final lap and finished 31st.
It also was the continuation of a wild weekend for Vickers, who won the pole Friday and spent Saturday sparring with Kyle Busch.
Vickers and Busch are trying to climb into the top 12 in Sprint Cup points to qualify for the chase, and their rivalry ratcheted up during the Nationwide race Saturday when they raced for the lead on the final lap and were passed by Brad Keselowski for the victory.
They exchanged words, a confrontation Vickers on Sunday called "ridiculous" and "unnecessary."
"I feel sorry for Kyle, that he lives that angry about something so small," Vickers said.
Vickers certainly got the best of Busch on Sunday, watching his rival come home 23rd. Busch slipped two spots to 15th in the standings.
And as if that wasn't enough drama, Vickers still isn't sure whether he's returning to drive for his team next season.
"We have every intention of getting this done [quickly]," team General Manager Jay Frye said.
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Sprint Cup standings
The top 12 drivers qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The current standings:
*--* RK DRIVER POINTS STARTS WINS TOP 5 TOP 10 1. Tony Stewart 3,500 23 3 13 18 2. Jeff Gordon 3,216 23 1 11 16 3. Jimmie Johnson 3,197 23 3 9 14 4. Carl Edwards 2,995 23 0 7 11 5. Denny Hamlin 2,986 23 1 7 11 6. Kurt Busch 2,957 23 1 6 12 7. Juan Montoya 2,887 23 0 1 11 8. Kasey Kahne 2,884 23 1 4 9 9. Ryan Newman 2,845 23 0 5 9 10. Greg Biffle 2,821 23 0 7 10 11. Matt Kenseth 2,811 23 2 4 8 12. Mark Martin 2,791 23 4 6 11 13. Brian Vickers 2,779 23 1 4 11 14. Clint Bowyer 2,733 23 0 4 10 15. Kyle Busch 2,721 23 3 5 7 *--*