The last time Red Bull's NASCAR squad hit the concrete at the Bristol Motor Speedway, Brian Vickers put on a great show for the fans.
After starting 28th, the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota driver battled to settle an unbalanced car through most of the race, using each pitstop to improve its handling. Then, after working his way up to 12th late in the race, adversity struck again when he was hit hard from behind trying to avoid another car. Vickers needed several pitstops to repair the damage and dropped back to midfield.
Undaunted, Vickers pushed the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota to the limit and regained almost all the ground he lost due to the accident and finished a more-than-respectable 15th.
Five months later, Vickers returns to Tennessee as a spectator after being knocked out of the car due to bloodclots and the treatment he needs to be ready to get back to NASCAR Sprint Cup racing in 2011.
But the lesson of Vickers’ March experience on the unforgiving 0.533-mile, high-banked concrete oval in Bristol was not lost on his replacement, Reed Sorenson, who takes the wheel of the No. 83 in Saturday’s IRWIN Tools Night Race.
“Racing at Bristol is always a lot of fun, especially when you have a good car,” he said. “The tough thing about Bristol is that it’s one of those tracks where you can have a great car, but if you get caught up in someone else’s mess, your day can go downhill pretty quick.”
While he likes the track, the Bristol bullring has not been Sorenson’s best friend. But he’s not alone: there are 11 drivers in the field who have raced there more than five times in the Sprint Cup without delivering a top-10 finish.
"Racing at Bristol is always a lot of fun, especially when you have a good car." –Reed Sorenson
Although Sorenson has qualified in the top 10 three times at Bristol, his best finish in his eight races there is a 15th three years ago. His average result in Bristol is 28th in his Cup career.
Then again, perhaps the mental notes gathered by teammate Scott Speed during a late-June tire test might help the team find something extra this time around. Speed was one of four drivers – Juan Pablo Montoya, Denny Hamlin, and David Ragan were the others – who tested tires at Bristol earlier this year as Goodyear prepared rubber for this weekend’s night race.
The test was in response to signs of stress discovered by teams on their cars’ right fronts during the spring race at Bristol.
The extra track time might go a long way to help Speed erase the bad taste from his last 267-mile race at Bristol, where a blown tire late in the race caused a trip into the wall that ruined a likely top-20 finish. Instead, he ended the day 31st.
In all, Bristol hasn’t treated Speed terribly well, either. He is also looking for his first top 10 in Tennessee.
On the bright side, the No. 82 Red Bull Toyota driver has performed well in qualifying there, starting third last year in August and riding that success to a 15th place in the race. His other qualifying result was an 11th in his first ever visit there last year, but it didn’t translate into race success as he ended his Bristol debut in 28th. But hope springs eternal…