Head2Head: Which Chase rookie will be back in '10?
Juan Montoya and Brian Vickers may be seeing their title aspirations slipping away, but neither driver can hang their head.
Both had impressive seasons and made the Chase for the first time, despite many thinking the duo were still a year or two off when the season began. So while both have reason to celebrate, which driver will back up their career year next season?
Bill Kimm and Jason Schoellen look at both drivers and decide which one they think will have another spectacular season in 2010. Read both sides of the argument and weigh in with your thoughts in the Comments section below.
Which Chase rookie will be back next season?
BRIAN VICKERS or JUAN MONTOYA
I know it doesn't feel like it right now, but I fully expect Brian Vickers to return to the form he exhibited when he raced his way into the Chase.
It's hard for a team to maintain the type of finishes Vickers and his No. 83 Red Bull team put up in the second half of the regular season. From the Daytona July race to the New Hampshire Chase race -- a span of 10 races -- Vickers finished no worse than 12th.
Only one other driver this season can say they have 10 consecutive finishes in the top 12 and his name isn't Johnson, Gordon or Martin -- it's Tony Stewart. So Vickers is in some pretty rare company.
Vickers has struggled mightily in the Chase, but the focus shouldn't be on that. Focus on the fact that when he had to step up, he did. With no margin for error, he posted top-10 after top-10 and climbed the Cup ranks.
All the while, with a team still in its infancy. Red Bull Racing wasn't supposed to make the Chase, but Vickers got it there -- much faster than anyone expected. Now that the team has broken through, expect it to get there again -- soon.
Juan Montoya has been a great story this season and will succeed in the future. But between the two, the experience of Vickers combined with the determination of the Red Bull organization and the success it achieved this season makes believe Vickers will be chasing the 2010 title.
• Bill Kimm, NASCAR.COM
Juan Montoya may be racing in his first Chase this year, but you can bet it won't be his last.
What's scary is that Montoya, in just his third full season, is still learning stock cars. He had a career year, improving his average finish by 10 positions on last season and has three times as many top-five finishes and more than five times the number of top-10 finishes as 2008 ... and there are five races remaining.
When Montoya first came into the series, he raced hard, but was reckless. He's learned when to force the issue and when not to, making him a formidable force. Brian Vickers may have a bull on his hood, but Montoya has one in his blood.
Give Vickers credit -- he made a heck of a rally to make the Chase, but it was by the slimmest of margins ... and he's been less than stellar since. Montoya, on the other hand, was on pretty solid ground before the Chase. Outside of a restart-gone-wrong at Charlotte, he's made plenty of noise in it.
Montoya's road course abilities speak for themselves, but he's steadily improved at other types of tracks. He's a player at short tracks and flat tracks. He stepped up his game at mile-and-a-half tracks and superspeedways ... and he'll only get better.
If his performance against NASCAR's finest is any indication, this season's Chase appearance will be one of many more to come for Montoya.
• Jason Schoellen, NASCAR.COM
The opinions expressed are solely those of the writers.