The Red Bull NASCAR team showed some educational spirit in Atlanta on Sunday night, putting on a mini science fair as millions of students prepare to go back to school this week.
To get things started, No. 82 Red Bull Toyota driver Scott Speed demonstrated the wonder of spontaneous combustion in the closing stages of the Emory Healthcare 500 when his engine gave up at the end of the back straight on the 1.54-mile quad-oval Atlanta Motor Speedway just after a green flag flew to end a caution period.
Speed’s car spewed a massive plume of white smoke through turns 3 and 4 before he dove into the safety of the pitlane. When he slowed for the yellow line at the pit entry, flames shot from beneath the length of his car as crew chief Ryan Pemberton yelled into the radio to stop and get out. Speed complied and was pulled from the car by two Red Bull crewmen.
Only later did he realize the gravity of the situation: “I’m fine. It was pretty funny – I was coming in and all of a sudden Ryan [Pemberton] got really panicky and I was like ‘Alright, I’ll stop now and get out.’ Then I came in and saw the replay – I guess we were on fire,” Speed said after the incident.
"I came in and saw the replay – I guess we were on fire." -Speed
“There was no warning, except for right before it went," he added. "It’s nothing special, just an engine expiring – it happens all the time.”
The NASCAR fire crew added chemistry to the lesson plan by putting out the oil blaze quickly with their fire extinguishers, leaving Speed’s stricken car covered in white powder.
Fans also got an opportunity to brush up on some more chemistry as the smoky haze from the engine failure gave a great demonstration of the dispersion of a colloid over the several minutes it took for the cloud to dissipate.
Meanwhile, Speed’s race ended before the smoke cleared and he finished the night in 34th place after completing only 264 of a scheduled 325 laps. In all, it took the safety crew seven laps to clean up the mess on track and in the pits caused by the No. 82’s fractured motor.
From there, Red Bull teammate Reed Sorenson moved to the front of the classroom to continue with the evening’s scholarly lessons. His first tutorial was a quick introduction to Newton’s Law, which states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
As Speed’s misfortune brought frowns to the No. 82 Red Bull Toyota crew, the resulting caution helped give teammate Sorenson the “lucky dog” free pass back onto the lead lap, which set in motion a series of quick laps at just the right time to deliver a top-15 finish.
"I think we learned some things about the car so it was a good weekend overall." -Sorenson
While the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota driver struggled through most of the race trying to make the car keep pace with the leaders, Speed’s exit created a seismic shift in his fortunes. It all came together in the last 75 miles; Sorenson took his car on a climb up the field from a lap down in 22nd when Speed’s car blew that saw him gain eight spots in the final 50 laps to cross the line 14th.
“The last run there was pretty good and we fought our way back up,” he said. “The car was decent the last half of the race and was pretty good. We were just trapped a lap down. I think we learned some things about the car so it was a good weekend overall.”
It was Sorenson’s second consecutive top-15 finish in the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota.
In the arithmetic category, Speed made things easy by staying in 27th spot overall in points.