Friday, October 31, 2008

Trick or Treat NASCAR Style

Still scrambling to throw together a Halloween costume for tonight? Try one of these 10 NASCAR-related getups.

Dale Jr.: Wear an unassuming T-shirt and pair of Wranglers and have hundreds of race fans stalk you.

The BV: Keep the five o’clock shadow growing.

Jeff Hammond: Hit the local Western store and buy some boots (spurs required), a cowboy hat and belt buckle the size of a salad plate.

Scott Speed (above right): Shave your hair into a Mohawk. Use your imagination after that.

The Champion: Just say you’re Jimmie Johnson.

The Carl: Back flip out of your car upon arrival and fail to catch the person wearing the Champion costume.

Bruton Smith: Come dressed to the nine like SMI’s head man. Show a little chest and the perfect tan underneath your shirt and sport coat, along with lavish, gold-plated sunglasses.

The Goodyear Eagle: Shred whatever you’re wearing.

Token NASCAR fan: Arrive drunk wearing jorts. Show off the belly and back hair.

The Biff: Bring a box of Milk-Bone dog treats as well as select K-9 DVDs, like “101 Dalmations,” “Lassie,” “Old Yeller” and “Turner & Hooch.”

Today at Texas: Qualifying actually took place (the previous three sessions were rained out). Brian Vickers timed in 13th, with teammate Scott Speed qualifying 33rd. Scott starts 18th in tonight’s Craftsman Truck Series race (9 p.m. ET).

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Everything's Bigger in NASCAR

Talladega, turkey legs, budgets, fuel consumption, a 600-mile race, tire failures, fans who don’t mind rain, traffic, a 12-month season and really heavy cars.

Red Bull Racing Team drivers have a busy weekend ahead in Texas. Aside from the usual Sprint Cup duties, Brian Vickers and Scott Speed will partake in the support races — Brian in Saturday's Nationwide race (his last of the season) and Scott in Friday's Craftsman Truck event.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Stopping, Speeding and Sliding

All it takes to circle Atlanta Motor Speedway is 30 seconds, about the same amount of time it took for Brian Vickers’ top-15 day to tick away.

The No. 83 was hit with a one-lap penalty because, during a stop on lap 299, the car was serviced outside of the pit box.

Vickers exited in 16th, but had to make the slow crawl back to his pit before being held for one lap, 1.54 miles or the agonizingly long 30 seconds.

Vickers, on the lead lap all day, returned a lap down in 24th. He ended up 21st at the checkered flag and is 18th in points — 24 out of 17th.

“For most of the race the car was loose off under throttle and lacked overall grip. It was decent at times, but we knew it wasn’t a car that could win the race," Vickers said. "The crew worked hard making a series of adjustments to make the car better, but the car was never as good as it was back in the spring. The penalty at the end of the race killed us because I think I could have picked up a few more spots had we not gone a lap down.”

Like his teammate, No. 84 driver Scott Speed battled a loose condition and a few problems on pit road to finish 34th. In addition to sliding through his pit box, Speed also earned one of the 11 speeding-on-pit-road penalties handed down Sunday. (Just two of the lessons rookies learn.)

Still, he led his first lap (lap 37) in Sprint Cup competition and has completed 99 percent of the circuits run in his two starts. The No. 84 sits 35th in the car owner standings — 25 points behind 34th and 80 points ahead of the red.

“We started out the race so extremely loose," Speed said. "We kept working on it as the race went on and we got it from extremely loose to regular loose. From there, we were able to keep up with the pace better and not fall so far behind. We still didn’t finish where we would have liked, but we did finish the race and getting these laps is really important for myself and the team as I learn to drive these Cup cars.”

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Red Bull Snow Stories

A thick, white ceiling hanging just above Atlanta Motor Speedway on Friday cancelled Sprint Cup qualifying for the third consecutive week and 10th time this season. There was no snow (there was in March when we were here), but the dreary day brought back memories of 1993 when the infamous “White Hurricane” swallowed the East Coast.

Red Bull Racing Team’s two former Nationwide Series drivers — Elton Sawyer (above) and Tim Fedewa — remember the weekend like it was yesterday.

“It was like 60 or 70 degrees on Friday,” Sawyer said. “We came in Saturday and there was like 10 or 12 inches of snow. It was amazing. They were snowed out on Saturday and Sunday and came back the next weekend to run the race.”

“Literally,” Fedewa said, “we got 18 or 19 inches. The wind was blowing 30 or 40 mph. It was just a whiteout. It was a blizzard. The whole town of Atlanta was shut down. Just to come to the track and see that — no one could move. It was just a very weird-looking situation. I just moved down from Michigan, and to see snow was no big deal for me. But to see it in Atlanta …”

Conditions today at Atlanta are expected to improve for Sprint Cup’s two practice sessions (10:30 a.m. and noon ET). Brian Vickers, who turned 25 on Friday, has two top-10 finishes in his past two starts here. On the Craftsman Truck side, Scott Speed starts 11th in the E-Z-GO 200 (1:30 p.m.).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ride 'Em Cowboy

Cross mechanical bull riding off Scott Speed’s to-do list.

Driver No. 84 spent Tuesday in Fort Worth, Texas, hanging on for dear life after learning from the best in bull riding, world champion Tuff Hedeman. Sporting a black cowboy hat, shirt, No. 84/rookie stripe on his back and with his chest sticking out like a true cowboy (no chaps), Speed took a few pointers from Hedeman and then proceeded to get tossed all over the place.

“It’s definitely one of those things that’s way harder than it looks,” Speed said. “I’ve been riding for the last hour, and I am WORN out. My groin muscle is destroyed. I am so tired. I wanted to ride a real bull — that was my first idea — but that got ixnayed by the lawyers.”

Hedeman was impressed.

“Scott is the kind of guy that if he wanted to be a bull rider, I’m sure he could,” Hedeman said. “Physically he is probably the right size. Most bull riders aren’t that big. Mentally, bull riders and race car drivers are all kind of cut from the same cloth. They are not afraid of danger. The adrenaline rush is what excites them.”

Speed, of course, took in the Texas culture, chilling with Hedeman, munching some barbeque and shopping at the Fort Worth Stockyards.

“I’m really having a great time here in Texas,” Speed said, “in my little cowboy hat and cowboy uniform experiencing this culture and hanging out with Tuff. I enjoy experiencing different cultures and different ways of life. I’m really lucky to be able to do all that.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

NASCAR Penalizes No. 83

Red Bull Racing Team’s No. 83 car and driver Brian Vickers lost 150 points each in their respective standings after infractions found in post-race inspection Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.

NASCAR ruled that the No. 83, chosen for random inspection after an 11th-place finish, had “exterior sheet metal (that) did not meet the specified minimum thickness.” Crew chief Kevin Hamlin and car chief Craig Smokstad were suspended indefinitely, with Hamlin receiving a $100,000 fine.

“As a team we accept full responsibility for the infractions regarding the No. 83’s Martinsville car and will not appeal NASCAR’s ruling,” said Jay Frye, the team’s general manager and vice president. “This approach to racing is against the values of Red Bull Racing Team, and the necessary steps will be taken to rectify the situation ensuring it does not happen again. It is a privilege to race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and we are taking this penalty seriously.”

Research and development director Randy Cox will assume crew chief responsibilities this weekend at Atlanta. Cox served as the No. 83 crew chief for the final four races of the 2007 season.

The penalty dropped Vickers from 15th to 17th in the driver standings, and the No. 83 fell two spots to 18th in car owner points.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Already Chase Material

Looks like Scott Speed’s well on his way to the Chase (note the above statistics).

Speed finished 30th in his Sprint Cup debut Sunday, learning early on the value of brakes in a Martinsville race. He kept the car off the wall and out of the way, and the No. 84 moved to 34th in the car owner standings. So Speed’s safe in qualifying at Atlanta.

“We really struggled today — we had brake issues all day long," Speed said. "This is a really long day when you have 500 laps to complete. The good thing is that we picked up a spot in the points and we completed all 500 laps.”

Teammate Brian Vickers, for the record, finished 33rd when he debuted in October 2003 at Charlotte. On Sunday, he finished 11th, running as high as fourth with 125 laps to go before the No. 83 failed to react to late-race adjustments. Vickers, 15th in points, is chasing a career-best finish in the driver standings. He’s 244 points behind 14th-place Kasey Kahne with four races remaining.

“We lost it there at the end. It just didn’t seem to be as strong in those last two runs," Vickers said. "We made some adjustments on that second-to-last stop, and it really hurt the car. We didn’t have a really good short-run car anyway, but I’m really proud of the Red Bull guys. This was probably our best short track car that we’ve ever had. That has been our weakest link at Red Bull since we started and just really proud of the effort. We probably had a top-five car if the race played out the right way.”

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Engineering Minds Want to Know

No de-briefing went down Friday afternoon at Martinsville. Practice and qualifying were cancelled, so Brian Vickers and the No. 83 team entered today with little to go on other than a computerized notebook and past experience.

But these are the days where Brian really makes his money, relaying information — handling characteristics, etc. — to the guys on the other end of the radio. Brakes are at a premium at Martinsville. Conditions this weekend are damp and cold. Getting the car to roll through the corners is paramount. So whatever knowledge Brian can drop during practice is certainly welcome.

“I have a little bit of an engineering mind, I guess you could say. I’ve always been intrigued by that,” he said. “That was something I was potentially going to go to college for. But I’m not an engineer and don’t claim to be, but I feel I can give the detailed information I need.”

Indeed, Brian welcomes his role as a translator of sorts, something he learned from veteran Jeff Gordon while Brian was at Hendrick Motorsports. He’s the driver, and only the driver knows what the car “feels” like.

“Let everybody do their job,” Brian said. “Two heads are better than one, but, that being said, let the crew chief crew chief, let the race engineer engineer and try to the make the car go fast. You just tell them what you need to go fast, tell them what the car is doing and where it needs to be better. And you do your part.

“It’s not their job to drive the car. It’s not your job to build the car. I collaborate with the engineer and crew chief on ideas and thoughts that I have.”

As far as on-track activity at Martinsville, Brian’s No. 83 starts 17th Sunday, while teammate Scott Speed’s No. 84 rolls off 35th. Scott, too, is in today’s Craftsman Truck Series race, where he’ll start 32nd in the No. 22 Red Bull Toyota.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Raw Deal for Red Bull

Brian Vickers has 225 days to think about another one that got away at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. This time, the culprit was a blown right-front tire that came with the No. 83 riding in the top 10. The last time, in May, a left-rear wheel worked its way loose with Vickers leading.

Lately, the North Carolina driver’s hometown track has been anything but warm and friendly. He was scored a lap down in 18th in Saturday night’s Bank of America 500, this after working to the front to lead a 64-lap stretch.

“I can’t believe it. We just can’t catch a break at this track,” said Vickers, who’s led 201 laps in his past three Charlotte starts. “We always have a dominant car here — usually the dominant car — and we have never been able to capitalize on it for a win. It’s very frustrating.”

Inside 100 laps to go, Vickers, running ninth, slowed on the high side as the tire gave way, eventually scraping the wall as traffic roared by below.

“A caution didn’t come out,” he said. “We ended up going down two laps trying to get down across the track to the pits. The last thing I wanted to do was turn across traffic where I could have caused a big wreck. Everyone on this team works their butts off, and we have been close to a win so many times this year. Our time will come.”

Teammate Mike Skinner took the No. 84 to the garage on lap 64 after this incident: “The guys told me that it looked like the 55 (Michael Waltrip) went down in the grass, got loose and came up and hit us. I guess (Ken) Schrader thought it was a green-white-checkered, I don’t know.”

An accurate take by Skinner, who finished 39th but kept the No. 84 in the top 35 in car owner points. Scott Speed will take over the car for the final five races, beginning Sunday at Martinsville.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

'The Beast Threw Me a Bone'

John Holman doesn’t have a favorite NASCAR driver. No favorite car numbers, sponsors or paint schemes.

“I pull for the track,” Holman said. “This year, the beast threw me a bone.”

The “bone” was a 70-pound Goodyear Eagle tire, one that shimmied off Brian Vickers’ No. 83 during May’s race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. While Brian’s car continued on, so did the tire — bouncing down the banking in turn two, up and over the fence and into Holman’s camper.

“I saw the tire in the air like a spinning top,” he remembered. “A tire coming over the fence was the last thing I was thinking. It did, and it went through the camper, landed in a neighboring tailgate. I saw the tire in the back of the truck, smoking. I knew not to touch that thing.”

Holman lost the side of his camper, but it was perhaps his greatest moment in 20 visits to the 600. As a consolation, Red Bull Racing Team gave Holman the tire, autographed sheet metal and team hat, four cases of Red Bull and a $300 Lowe’s gift certificate.

He’s making a glass table out of the tire. “Too heavy to hang up,” he said.

Holman, a 49-year-old from Hickory, N.C., is hardcore. Fans like him are the fabric of NASCAR. He’s been to 400 races and has 4,000 autographs.

“My house is a NASCAR shrine,” Holman said. “I do the infield, I hang around. Whoever is nice to me, that’s who I like … the ones that take time out for the fans. Ever since this has happened, I’ve been pulling for Brian.”

Rest assured, Holman will be hanging around the infield tonight at LMS. Only he’ll be parked along the backstretch for the Bank of America 500 (7:25 p.m. ET). Brian, who finished third in Friday night’s Nationwide Series race, starts 16th. Teammate Mike Skinner starts 34th.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Painting the Town with Speed

He never got the chance to qualify the No. 82 Red Bull Toyota. A steady drizzle took care of that Thursday at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. But at least Scott Speed got to show off his creative side as he welcomed media members to the Red Bull Energy Station.

Two young and talented graffiti artists were on hand, decorating custom white ball caps any and every way possible while Speed chatted it up with reporters. Later that day, word came down that NASCAR had called qualifying.

“For sure, it’s disappointing that qualifying got rained out because my crew and I were really looking forward to getting on track and racing a third car for Red Bull,” he said. “I’ve raced a Truck at Lowe’s, and I’ve also tested a Cup car here, so we thought it would be a good place for my first Cup race. I guess we still have two good things going for us, though — that I’ve also raced at Martinsville, and that we only have to wait another week to make our Cup debut.”

Speed will take over the No. 84 for the final five races. But first he’ll try to lock up the ARCA RE/MAX Series championship Sunday in Toledo, Ohio.

Brian Vickers and Mike Skinner will race Saturday night. The lineup was set on car owner points, with BV’s No. 83 starting 17th and Skinner’s No. 84 rolling off 34th. They’ll have two practice sessions today (5 and 6:20 p.m. ET).

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Chefs Go Grill-to-Grill

For Cliff Cameron, hitting the kitchen by 6 a.m. is like Brian Vickers turning a qualifying lap around Talladega.


Cameron, Red Bull Racing Team’s chef, brings top-notch cuisine to the Nos. 83 and 84 haulers each day. Eggs, hash browns, grits, biscuits and gravy, fruit and breakfast burritos laced with bacon … that’s just the basics at the crack of dawn.

But the basics won’t count Wednesday morning when Cameron takes on Michael Waltrip Racing chef Peter Ray in the first “NASCAR Iron Chefs,” part of “Fox News Rising’s” morning show in metro Charlotte (6-8 a.m.).

In Lowe’s Motor Speedway’s winner’s circle, Cameron and Ray will cook only with what is bought by crew members. In Cameron’s case, over-the-wall guys Mike Metcalf, Brian Dheel and John Billy spent $50 at a local grocery store. It’s up to Cameron after that.

“It’s all in fun. This is not serious by any means,” Cameron said. “The pit crew is doing the shopping. All the info they got from me is that I want to do an appetizer and entrée. That’s all of the specifics I could give them.”

Fox Charlotte’s John Wilson will judge the competition. Cameron and Ray will have about 90 minutes to prepare the food, each with their own prep table and 3-foot space on a 6-foot grill.

“I’m going in totally blind,” Cameron said. “It’s about how creative you can be with the shopping knowledge of a pit crew.”

What does Cameron expect from his pit crew shoppers?

“I’m thinking healthy,” Cameron said. “Most of the money was probably spent in the produce section. They’re all athletes. I think the pit crew is going to throw stuff in there just to make me laugh.”

Monday, October 06, 2008

Things That Go Boom

With a stout car underneath him, Brian Vickers’ strategy led him to the front, hoping he’d somehow avoid one of the mid-pack wrecks that make Talladega Superspeedway famous.

Then … BOOM!

“I felt a bomb explode,” Vickers said. “It didn’t cut. It didn’t go flat. It just exploded.”

Indeed, the right-front tire on the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota gave way on lap 68 while Vickers was running in the top five. The explosion shredded sheet metal, and his car immediately darted to the right and connected with another on the outside. All hell broke loose after that.

“I was just trying to make sure that I was holding on as tight as possible,” said Vickers, who led 10 laps Sunday. “When you lose a right-front tire there’s nothing you can do. You’re really just at the mercy of where momentum is going to take you and other guys around you and hopefully they avoid you.”

The failed Goodyear Eagle triggered Sunday’s first “big one,” as nine cars went spinning and crashing. Included was Mike Skinner’s No. 84. He had nowhere to go.

“Our goal today was to miss that,” Skinner said, “and we didn’t miss it.”

Both cars returned to the track, but the end result was 31st for Skinner and 35th for Vickers.

Vickers moved up one spot in points to 16th, and he’s only 13 points behind 15th-place Ryan Newman. Skinner’s No. 84 slipped one spot in the car owner standings to 34th — 17 points out of the red entering this weekend’s home race in Charlotte.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Safe Escape from Talladega

In one race, he kept his championship lead. In the other, he kept his truck in one piece. Both were quite the accomplishment considering Scott Speed’s latest double-duty weekend came at Talladega Superspeedway.

The site of his first stock car start in October 2007, Talladega was a defining chapter in Speed’s race to the ARCA RE/MAX Series title. He and his closest championship rival, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., were involved in separate incidents Friday — Speed’s being a blown right-rear tire — that sent both cars behind the wall for repairs.

They returned to the track multiple laps down, with Speed’s No. 2 Red Bull Toyota crossing the stripe five positions ahead of Stenhouse in 23rd. He lengthened his championship lead to 85 points over Stenhouse, as five drivers will have a title shot in the Oct. 12 season finale at Toledo Speedway.

In Saturday’s Craftsman Truck race, Speed beat, banged and bounced around 2.66-mile Talladega to finish 15th in the No. 22 Red Bull Toyota. It was Speed’s seventh top-15 finish in 11 truck starts, and he got a healthy dose of just how dicey Talladega can be.

“That was just ridiculous,” Speed said. “The two races here were crazy. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of fun out there but I was sweating at the same time. It was mayhem out there, but we still managed to get the job done and that’s all that matters.”

Speed will attempt to make his NASCAR Sprint Cup debut Saturday night at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., then hopes to lock up the ARCA championship the next day in Toledo, Ohio.

Down in Dega: Brian Vickers, in the No. 83, and Mike Skinner's No. 84 start ninth and 21st, respectively, in today's Talladega 500 (2 p.m. ET).

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Clash with the Orangemen

At least the No. 83 team won’t have to worry about Tony Stewart clipping one of its crew members in the pits this week. Today at Talladega, the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota drew the second pit stall, directly behind the No. 28 and ahead of the No. 99.

Stewart drives No. 20, the same car that gave gas man Doug Newell a ride at Kansas. Anyone glued to the tube Sunday saw, over and over via replays, Newell roll up onto the hood of Stewart’s car during a pit stop on lap 117. The team was taking out right-rear spring rubbers installed on an earlier stop, and an impatient Stewart, exiting from behind, just decided to go — gas man up ahead or not.

“About the time Brian started to go, (Stewart) started to go and before you knew it I was up on the hood of his car,” Newell said. “The worst part about it was that it rolled me up on my back. I felt like a turtle upside down. I couldn’t do anything, couldn’t grab a hold of anything.

“I was kind of thinking if you would just stop I can get off of here. My other thought was that I wanted to roll off on the driver’s side and empty rest of my gas can on his lap.”

Nothing like life on pit road.

Brian qualified ninth for Sunday’s Talladega 500 (186.707 mph), with No. 84 driver Mike Skinner rolling off 21st (186.065).

Friday, October 03, 2008

BV’s Ruling on ‘The Rush’

Brian Vickers has felt “the rush” countless times — in a race car cruising at 190 mph or free falling to the Earth at 115. But nothing, he said, can match the first time.

“And as long as you understand that,” he said, “you’re not always chasing that ‘first time.’ If you’re always chasing that rush the first time you did something, that’s what usually gets people into trouble because you’re never going to beat that. People try to, and that’s when people get hurt. They get riskier, riskier and riskier looking for that first rush.”

Racing yields a lot of firsts. Brian’s first rush came when he drove go-karts as a kid. Another came the first time in a full-sized race car. Another the first time in a high-horsepower Sprint Cup car. More after his Nationwide championship and first Cup victory at Talladega. And, yes, another when Brian made his skydiving debut in February. He’s jumped about 10 times since then.

“That (the rush) starts to drop,” he said. “Like with anything you do repeatedly, eventually it’s going to go. I don’t think it’s ever going to go way, I’m mean, jumping out of an airplane …”

He’s also flown with Red Bull Air Racer Kirby Chambliss, so where does Vickers find that next high?

“I’ve thought about jumping in with a snowboard and cut the chute right when you land,” he said. “Something tells me that’s more involved than what I imagine.”

The Talladega 500 is a so-called impound race. Brian and Mike Skinner will practice twice today, with qualifying at 12:15 p.m. ET Saturday. Then it’s straight to Sunday’s race.

Speed blurb: Scott Speed’s busy this weekend. He starts seventh in today’s ARCA/RE MAX Series 250 (5 p.m.) and rolls off 16th in Saturday’s Craftsman Truck race (4 p.m.).

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Guzzling Gas

Stretching fuel mileage has taken on new meaning these days around Charlotte, N.C. Getting gas means getting in line, oftentimes squeezing into a 25-car draft that spills out onto the street.

The current national average is $3.61 a gallon. Charlotte has partly been in gridlock with some pumps pushing $4.19. Residents are taking the bus and bumming rides because even the next station’s “93” pumps carry a grocery bag.

Consider these numbers relating to NASCAR:

A Talladega car holds 19 gallons of gas. Cars can complete 34 laps (90.6 miles) before refueling, with six stops anticipated in Sunday’s 500-miler. Between practice, qualifying and the race, about 135 gallons will be consumed per piece. That amount translates into a Charlotte street value of $540, even though Sunoco supplies the fuel at no charge to NASCAR teams.