It’s said that, in sports, you’ve got to learn how to lose a championship before you can win one. If that’s the case, Brian Vickers and his No. 83 Red Bull Toyota should clean up in NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup next season.
The 26-year-old driver’s first appearance in the 10-race championship-deciding playoff ended, almost mercifully, on Sunday at Miami-Homestead Speedway with the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota a whopping 723 points behind 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.
Vickers summed up his maiden Chase experience quite succinctly in Miami: “Getting in our first Chase was pretty exciting – the Chase itself sucked.”
The Chase ended pretty much as it began: with Vickers struggling. He qualified 33rd and paid for that poor starting position for most of the race. He ended the season with a decent 20th-place finish, but it was simply not where he wanted to be.
"It’s hard to argue that it wasn’t a successful year and I still stand by that.” -Brian Vickers
“Tonight, we never were that great,” he said after stepping from the car. “We were really lacking track position, and it seemed like every time we were in a good position, our car was at its worst. It was just a struggle all night.”
The same could be said for Vickers’ performance in the Chase. When he wasn’t running into bad luck or getting caught up in wrecks, Vickers struggled to find pace in the 10 races, becoming the first Chase qualifier not to deliver a top-10 result in the championship playoff.
The closest he could manage was a pair of 11th-place results to go along with two more top-20s. On the flip side, he finished worse than 25th on five occasions.
“We haven’t been anywhere where we would like to be in the Chase,” Vickers said. “We were one of the best teams on the racetrack in the 10 races leading up to it.”
That said, don’t expect Vickers to be disappointed with the 2009 season for the Red Bull outfit. While the Chase performance left a bitter taste, the team met every one of their goals for the season. At the beginning of the season, the plan was simple: to sit on poles, win races and be in the Chase. Vickers started first six times in 2009, he won Red Bull’s first Sprint Cup race in Michigan in August, and the team made the Chase after an incredible nine-race run to erase a 197-point deficit to 12th.
“No matter what happened [in the Chase], it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t a successful year and I still stand by that,” Vickers said. “Looking back upon the whole season and everything that we’ve gone through with Red Bull since its inception, I’m really proud of this year and proud of everybody at Red Bull for what we’ve accomplished.”
“You have to build that confidence, consistency, the knowledge base and the notes, and be able to go fast. A lot of it is just experience." -Brian Vickers
Red Bull vice-president Jay Frye said that the 2009 Chase appearance was simply a part of a learning process that will continue in 2010. And, while it may have been tough to watch at times, the experience will help the Red Bull Toyota team as they continue to improve.
“In 2008, we learned how to compete every week. In 2009, we learned how to win, and make the Chase,” Frye said. “Obviously we’re disappointed how the Chase went. Part of the evolution is learning that the intensity level definitely steps up in the last 10 weeks. Were we prepared for that? Yeah, we thought we were.”
So, what do Team Red Bull need to get to the level of the top teams so they can deliver a championship rather than frustration?
“It takes time to get to where they’re at,” Vickers said. “You have to build that confidence, consistency, the knowledge base and the notes, and be able to go fast. A lot of it is just experience. A lot of it is ability and how they approach racing and the Chase, but some of it is just experience. They have been doing it for a long time with the same group of people and you can’t just snap your fingers and get that.”
See more about the team at www.redbullracingusa.com.