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Food City 500 Update: Brian Vickers Leads Return To Sprint Cup Series After 100 Laps

Eyebrows were raised when Michael Waltrip hired Brian Vickers to run the races Mark Martin and Waltrip himself are not running in the No. 55 Toyota, given Vickers' less-than-glamorous end to the 2011 season. So far, Vickers is making Waltrip look like a genius, taking the lead from A.J. Allmendinger just prior to the 100-lap mark after Allmendinger was unable to lap Bobby Labonte.

Vickers, Allmendinger, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, and Martin Truex Jr. ran in the top-five as a caution flag flew for a crash by Kenny Schrader at lap 115. All but Gordon had stayed out under the caution flag for the major crash on lap-25 to pick up track position. Schrader's venture into the wall - apparently due to a blown tire - played the role of equalizer, sending all the leaders to pit road for four tires and fuel.

Vickers had spent the last five years racing for Red Bull Racing, but when that team folded at the end of the season, he was passed over for the precious few open seats in the Sprint Cup Series. His incident-filled conclusion to the season, including a pair of high-profile incidents with Matt Kenseth and a day at Martinsville that saw him hit everything but the lottery, seemed to at least temporarily end his Sprint Cup career, but he has been solid in his tryout as he tries to regain respect.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.