Sunday, March 29, 2009

There's Bad Luck, and Then Really Bad Luck

A series of unfortunate events unfolded late in Sunday’s race at Martinsville that cost Brian Vickers another top-10 finish and, more importantly, 78 points in the Sprint Cup standings.

Vickers was running eighth with 35 laps to go when he reported the right-front tire rubbing. The 11th caution flag waved two laps later, Vickers pitted for four tires and as he left the pits NASCAR officials noticed fluid leaking from the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota. Turned out it was oil, and Vickers came back in and the hood went up. He returned four laps down in 35th.

Instead of his fourth top 10 in the season’s first six races, Vickers finished 33rd. He fell from 14th to 20th in points.

“I don’t know what to say,” Vickers said. “We ran top 10 all day and were looking to leave Martinsville with a good points day. We ran into some bad luck at the end, which put us four laps down. It’s hard to stomach losing that many spots in the points knowing how well this team did today.”

Teammate Scott Speed’s race began well when the No. 82 Red Bull Toyota stayed out during the competition caution on lap 40. Strategy put Speed on point for the first time in his Sprint Cup career. He led once for 12 laps and was one of only four drivers to lead a green-flag lap.

He was running ninth on lap 70 when Kyle Busch lost control of his car underneath Speed in turn three. Speed gave Busch plenty of room but obviously not enough, as Busch’s car tapped Speed’s and both went spinning — the No. 82 into the outside wall with damage to left rear and side. Speed continued on the lead lap, but quickly went to the garage for repairs. He was 39th at the checkered flag.

“I’m sure Kyle is going to offer to buy me dinner since that’s the second time this year that he’s wrecked me, so I’m looking forward to that,” Speed said, referring to the Las Vegas Nationwide Series race when Busch KO’d Speed on lap 21.

“We had a great car before we got wrecked and we even had a great car after we got wrecked. This race is a lot like Daytona for us where we had a great car but were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The No. 82 is 38th in the owner standings — 28 points out of the top 35.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sawyer's Southern Va. Gem

In a driving career that spanned three decades, Virginian Elton Sawyer made 392 starts in what NASCAR now calls the Nationwide Series. Twenty-five of those starts came at Martinsville Speedway, including his first on Oct. 30, 1983.

Driving the No. 01 Pontiac owned by Emanuel Zervakis out of Richmond, Va., Sawyer started 18th and finished 30th in the Cardinal 250. He had qualified 13th overall, but back then heat races determined the starting order for everyone outside the top 10.

“It was a big deal to go to Martinsville,” said Sawyer, a native of Chesapeake, Va., and Red Bull Racing Team’s director of competition. “You had heard about it for years, and it was neat to go there.”

Sawyer speaks of Martinsville like Hoosiers speak of Indianapolis — only the track is about a fifth of the size. He owns seven top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in Nationwide competition at Martinsville, not to mention two Sprint Cup starts in 1995.

“It’s a great facility,” Sawyer said. “It’s a short track, and that’s where a large number of the guys that are in this garage now — whether it be crew chief roles or crewman roles or management roles — got started. It’s cool to go back there. I love that race track. Fortunately as a driver I had some success there. I won a late model race and ran well there at that time with the Busch cars. Hopefully we’ll have good runs there with our Red Bull cars.”

Race Day at Martinsville: Saturday's two Sprint Cup practice sessions were rained out, so all the Red Bull Toyotas have to go on is Friday's opening practice. At least the weather's supposed to clear out by the time Brian Vickers (14th) and Scott Speed (36th) roll off for the Goody's 500. Sunday's forecast calls for mostly sunny skies with high of 61 degrees.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


A few days after attending the Winter Music Conference in Miami and learning the craft of DJ’ing, Scott Speed enters Martinsville with his No. 82 Red Bull Toyota tied for 36th in the car owner standings. Speed made his Sprint Cup debut there last October, and he was running at the finish in 30th.

But enough about racing. Speed spent the first part of this week hanging and scratching with DJ Carl Cox in Miami.

“I just like doing as much as I can. Life’s short — I want to do all of it,” said Speed, whose favorite artists include DJ Tiesto, Timbaland, Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West and Placebo.

Speed gave Cox, an Englishman and huge fan of motorsports, a ride through South Beach in the Red Bull show car, and Cox returned the favor by giving a few pointers on mixing music.

“That‘s the best part of being a Red Bull athlete, getting to meet all the cool people from different genres,” Speed said. “Carl’s interests are in cars and racing, and all of mine are in music and fashion. It’s cool to meet someone when each of you have an interest in the other’s profession.”

He also spent time with DJ K-Razor at the Red Bull Music Academy (pictured above). “He got me going in the right direction,” Speed said. “It’s about feeling the music, to be able to sync songs together. It’s something you have to feel.”

The Winter Music Conference is a weeklong electronic music event held every March since the mid-1980s in south Florida. The event moved to Miami Beach in 1991 and was considered a major catalyst in the establishment of the South Beach club scene. The WMC draws more than 3,500 music industry participants and 62,000 event participants from 70 countries.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Boring Day at Bristol

Scott Speed started Sunday’s Sprint Cup race in 11th, but an early speeding penalty on pit road sent Speed’s No. 82 Red Bull Toyota to the tail end in 39th. And in typical Bristol fashion, the leaders came on strong — again, again and again. Speed finished three laps down in 28th, and the No. 82 sits tied for 36th in the car owner standings.

“We definitely got our car handling a lot better after the first two pit stops,” Speed said, “and then at that point it’s a little bit too late but we were all right there at the end. Once we got the car the way I wanted it we were much better, and that’s important. So we just need to start there next time.”

Teammate Brian Vickers endured much of the same fate. Running 24th, he felt a right-rear tire going down and pitted just past lap 300. The sixth yellow flag waved as Vickers was entering the pits, so the team opted for right-side tires only. Vickers came around again for left sides, but NASCAR ruled that Vickers pitted too early and sent the No. 83 to the tail end. Vickers restarted four laps down and went on to finish 29th. He fell to 14th in points.

“This team proved again we never give up,” Vickers said. “We had a better car than the finish shows. I tried not to wear down the right-rear tire like that. I was hoping a caution would fall before it did. The top seemed to wear down tires faster, and we ran better up top. It’s disappointing to lose a couple spots in the points. We’ll rally in Martinsville.”

Match Made In Thunder Valley

The first time Scott Speed ever saw Bristol Motor Speedway he qualified on the pole and finished third in last August’s Camping World Truck race.

The second time, in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at .533-mile Bristol, Speed finished eighth in the No. 99 Red Bull Toyota. After qualifying 19th, he ran in the top 15 throughout the day before moving into the top 10 as the laps wound down.

“I had a great car all day and really all weekend,” Speed said. “I didn’t qualify the car very well and we had to start toward the back of the field, so that just compounded the deal. To start back in 19th and make it up to eighth today is tough and I am really happy with that. I am always fast when I come over here to run with these guys and I think the chemistry we have is really good. I look forward to days like this at the track.”

The Bristol finish backed up a strong weekend at Las Vegas, where Speed made his Nationwide Series debut with Michael Waltrip Racing. Speed took the pole with a track record qualifying lap before getting caught up in an accident early in the race.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Endurance Put to the Test

Throughout his stint in Europe, Scott Speed never saw race distances like the ones in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Take, for example, Speed’s last full season in Formula One. The 2006 season’s longest race was the Malaysian Grand Prix, run on the 3.44-mile Sepang International Circuit. At the checkered flag, lead-lap cars reached 310.408 kilometers, which is 192.887 miles on this side of the pond. That grand prix lasted a little more than 90 minutes.

Even the ARCA and Camping World Truck races that Speed competed in last season are no match for the 400- and 500-mile endurance events seen in Sprint Cup. He saw nearly 500 laps in his Sprint Cup debut last fall at Martinsville and 400 miles this season at Las Vegas.

“I can tell you that doing a 500-mile race when the car’s not fast and you’re struggling is horrible. The worst thing in the world for any driver to experience,” Speed said. “In a race when your car is good, like ours was in Las Vegas, you’re like, ‘Dude, this race needs to keep going.’”

A fit and trim Speed had no problems with the March 8 race at Atlanta, but expects Sunday’s 500-lap race at Bristol to be a challenge.

“Honestly, I could have gotten out of the car and ran five miles. Not a big deal at all physically,” Speed said of Atlanta. “When you start going to a track and you get the temperatures up in the 80s and 90s, no matter where you’re at, that’s going to be a struggle just to stay hydrated.

“A track like Bristol is going to be the most physical. The track is short, you don’t use a lot of brakes and corners have much more grip. I’m expecting Bristol to be much more physical than Atlanta.”

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Driver and Jumper

What did you do between the West Coast races in Fontana and Las Vegas?

Brian Vickers jumped out of a perfectly safe airplane several times and had a blast doing it with the Red Bull Air Force. Sporting his Red Bull firesuit, he fell free in the skies above Perris, Calif.

Watch BV's bravery on our Facebook page.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Face Full of Fire

Think the dangers on pit road are limited to speeding cars, errant tires, lug nuts whizzing around and the occasional stumble over an air hose? Think again.

Fire sometimes rears its evil head in the trenches of pit road, and it did in the March 1 Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

On Scott Speed’s first pit stop, No. 82 tire rear tire changer Chad Avrit whipped around to change right-side rubber. All seemed to be going smoothly — lug nuts off, tire off, tire on, lug nuts on. But then raw fuel and flames shot out of the exhaust, which wasn’t far away from Avrit’s right arm and face. The same thing happened on the next stop, too.

“You can feel (the fire) the whole time,” said Avrit, 25. “I stayed in there as long as I could to get it done. There was one point where I did actually have to go back for a second when it really flamed up in my face. Yeah, I felt it the whole time. The marks on my arm prove it.”

Indeed, the fire took a toll. Avrit sustained burns on his right forearm and wrist and lost some facial hair.

“I had my sleeve pulled up,” he said. “It’s burned. It’s blistered up. Skin missing. Burned all the hair off. I had glasses on, but it was so hot it actually went through and got some of my eyelashes and eyebrows.”

But Avrit manned up, and the burns barely bothered him the rest of the day, nor did he feel any lingering effects Sunday at Atlanta. As he said, “put a little cream on it, cover it up and don’t worry about it.”

“That’s why we wear what we wear,” Avrit said. “It’s expected that something’s going to happen at least once in your career.”

Click here to watch Avrit meet fire face to face on the team’s Facebook page.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

One That (Maybe) Got Away

Brian Vickers’ blue No. 83 had Kurt Busch’s blue deuce in its sights, slowly reeling in the leader as the two fought toward the scheduled finish Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

(Cue the untimely caution.)

But the 11th yellow flag of the Kobalt Tools 500 waved with four laps remaining, halting Vickers’ pursuit of Busch and setting up a green-white-checkered finish. A thin lead group of cars, all running on aging rubber and low of fuel, had no choice but to pit. Vickers peeled onto pit road in second and peeled off in sixth, and he picked up one position in the final two laps to give Red Bull Racing Team its first top-five finish of the season.

The result was Vickers’ third consecutive top 10. He’s gained 29 positions in points in the past three races and sits 11th entering the bye week.

As Busch celebrated in victory lane, all Vickers could think about was what he lost — a shot at his second Sprint Cup victory and first with Red Bull Racing Team.

“We would’ve finished first or second — or wrecked trying,” Vickers said. “We obviously had the better car there at the end. Kurt and I were running the same line, so it wasn’t going to be easy to pass him. He was driving his butt off as well. I’m really proud of the Red Bull guys. I had a great car all day.”

Before the final stop, Vickers last pitted under caution on lap 262. He came in fourth, left in second and five laps later the No. 83 and a handful of other leaders stayed out when Scott Speed’s No. 82 and the No. 6 connected to bring out the 10th yellow. On the restart, Busch and Vickers pulled away to make it a two-car show, and Vickers at one point cut Busch’s lead to less than a second with 17 laps to go as they used every inch along the outside wall.

“We always seemed to have one of the best cars — if not the best car — at one point throughout a run,” Vickers said. “I was really hoping it would stay green. It was going to be a great race to the finish with Kurt and I.”

As for Speed, who fought an ill-handling car, his day ended with a wrecker towing the No. 82 to the garage. After the contact coming off turn four, Speed’s car darted right and scraped along the frontstretch wall before creeping to a stop. Speed was OK, but the rookie was credited with 35th. The No. 82 ranks 37th in the car owner standings — 30 points from the top 35.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Points Matter Most

Red Bull Racing Team rebounded from two engine changes to earn the so-called “good points day” after Sunday’s Shelby 427 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Brian Vickers, in the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota, qualified 21st on Friday, but rolled off from the back on race day after the primary engine was deemed unraceable. The No. 83 team also battled through alternator problems and a battery change to finish eighth.

It was the No. 83’s second consecutive top-10 finish, as Vickers, who ran as high as third with 30 laps to go, gained nine spots in points. He sits 17th entering this weekend’s visit to another intermediate track in Atlanta.

“I’m so proud of this team,” Vickers said. “We lost our batteries and had to come in to change batteries and go to the back again and fight back from that. I’m just really proud of the effort from the guys. I think we had a car that could win, but to have all of those problems and get a top 10 — that’s how you win championships.”

Teammate and No. 82 driver Scott Speed had the best finish of his rookie Sprint Cup season, this despite an engine change late Friday afternoon. He came home 21st after going a lap down early, getting it back and then losing it again.

“When we were a lap down, we still had a really good car,” Speed said. “We came a long way from how bad our car was at the beginning of the weekend, to how good it was during the race. I’m still learning how to figure out what the car needs and wants, but I’m getting better at it each time we race.”

Speed’s No. 82 Red Bull Toyota ranks 37th in the car owner standings — a mere eight points from getting out of the red and into the top 35.

Fast Then Crash

First the good news: Scott Speed won the pole for Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway by turning a lap at 182.451 mph — good enough for the track record. He became the ninth driver in Nationwide history to earn the pole in his first start.

And now the bad news: Speed had nowhere to go when Kyle Busch’s No. 18 car spun directly in front of him on lap 21 of the Sam’s Town 300. The damage to Speed’s No. 99 Red Bull Toyota was too much for the Michael Waltrip Racing team to fix, and Speed’s day ended right there. He finished 40th.

“It was a good time out there," Speed said. "At least we were running in the front and running well. What can you do? It’s just the wrong place at the wrong time — kind of the story of my year so far. Nonetheless, I’m certainly excited to get back into the next race with this team and with everything we have because we have good stuff. I think we’re going to have a good year in this thing.”