When it comes to the NASCAR Sprint Cup’s Red Bull Racing team, maybe it’s not such a bad thing that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
Considering that the team struggled in their past two visits to the 1.5-mile tri-oval Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Red Bull Toyota drivers Scott Speed and Brian Vickers would likely be happy not to have their Nevada luck follow them elsewhere.
Speed was the best of the pairing, coming home 22nd after a difficult race that could have been much worse.
“We just misread the track a little bit,” Speed explained after the Shelby American went into the books. “We thought it was going to be a fair bit tighter than it was out there and we struggled with the car being loose. [Crew chief] Jimmy [Elledge] made some great calls on pit road to keep us up there in a reasonable position.”
Speed still kept himself well within the top 20 in owner points, which will help him lock up a qualifying spot on the grid come the sixth race in Martinsville on March 28. Only the top 35 from last season get the free pass into the first five races, and Speed ended last year 36th.
Fortunately it hasn’t mattered for Speed, who has started his sophomore Sprint Cup season with a trio of excellent performances in qualifying that have made his 2009 finishing position irrelevant. He also put up a pair of top-20 finishes in the first two races that had him in the top 15 in points for the first time in his Sprint Cup career.
"If our bad days are 22nd, then we’re doing something good." –Scott Speed
So far in 2010, Speed has scored 348 points, 150 more than he had at this time a year ago when he was 36th in the Cup standings.
Last year in Vegas, Speed suffered a terrible weekend, needing an engine change after failing to show any pace in practice or qualifying, then finishing a lap down in 21st in the race – yet this year became his worst result in three tries. But if a top-25 finish is the worst 2010 dishes up, Speed will take it:
“It was not our finest hour by any means and we still ended up 22nd and 16th in points. If our bad days are 22nd, then we’re doing something good.”
Things didn’t go as well for teammate Brian Vickers, who fought the No 83 Red Bull Toyota in Friday practice as he worked on race set-up rather than qualifying trim due to expected rain on Saturday. He could only manage 31st after a tough qualifying session and never really recovered.
Vickers spent most of the race mired in the bottom third of the field and had dropped a lap down by the time the race put 40 laps in the books. He finished the day in the same place he started, 31st, but five laps adrift of the leaders. He leaves Las Vegas after dropping four spots in the point standings to 18th, with 320 points.
While things didn’t go as well as hoped in the Shelby American, it wasn’t a completely lost weekend for the team, as Jimmy Elledge did go home $2,700 richer after cleaning up in one of Las Vegas’s finer gambling establishments on Saturday afternoon.