Two Red Bulls in the Top 35
Brian Vickers snuck the No. 84 into the top 35, and teammate Scott Speed had the best finish of his Sprint Cup career in the No. 83. The driver swap paid off Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Red Bull Racing Team will have two Toyotas in February’s Daytona 500, as Vickers, the No. 83 driver, brought the No. 84 home in 32nd — just enough to move that car into the top 35 in car owner points. The No. 84 entered the race 17 points behind in 36th, left 13 points ahead in 35th and is guaranteed a spot in the first five races next season.
Speed, the No. 84 driver, gave way to the more experienced Vickers and climbed into the No. 83 for the last of his five Sprint Cup starts this season. He qualified on the front row and finished a career-best 16th.
“I’m disappointed because I wanted to end this year with a win,” said Vickers, who closed 2008 with the team’s first pole, three top fives, six top 10s and a best finish of second in June at Pocono. He ended up 19th in driver points.
“The guys have worked so hard. I’m happy, though, that we accomplished what we set out to do, and that was to get this 84 car into the top 35 in owner points. That will be a huge weight off the team’s shoulders going into Daytona next year. Scott did a great job in the 83 today, too. I’m happy to see him running so well.”
Vickers started 20th and was on target for a decent day until a pit-road speeding penalty on lap 128 put him a lap down. Forty laps later, congestion on pit road damaged the No. 84 and forced successive stops, but crew chief Jimmy Elledge radioed to Vickers that the closest competitor in the top 35, the No. 47 of Marcos Ambrose, was in the garage.
At that point, Vickers needed to finish no worse than 37th.
“After both incidents we still had a good car — really good — but were never able to get out of traffic and ended the race a lap down,” Vickers said.
Speed backed up his front-row qualifying effort in Saturday’s two practices, where he was third fastest in both. He backed it up in the race, too, keeping pace with Chase competition throughout the day.
As cars peeled onto pit road for fuel in the closing laps, pit strategy moved Speed to 16th, on the lead lap and position spot behind series champion Jimmie Johnson.
“We had a really good car all night,” Speed said. “The first half of the race we were a little loose getting into the corners, but as the sun went down and it got cooler out, the car tightened up a bit. This was a good race for us. We finished every lap, stayed out of trouble and came home with a good finish. I felt like I had a really good feel for the car and learned a lot so it was a nice to end the season on a high note.”