By the time the Phoenix race came around on the calendar, Brian Vickers was hoping to be enjoying some Chase success instead of being mired in 12th place, and his fans might laugh now when they read that he’s expecting a turnaround because they’ve heard it so many times before.
Actually, the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota driver’s fans should see that things are different since the Chase entered the second half. After a rough start to his first appearance in NASCAR’s championship playoff, the past three starts saw an improvement for Vickers. He’s averaging a 16th-place finish in the second half of the 10-race championship showdown, or about 10 spots better than he managed in his first five Chase starts.
So, now it’s on to the Phoenix International Raceway for the penultimate race, where Vickers hopes to get his first top-10 in Chase for the Cup competition. “I really like Phoenix and it’s always been a really good track for me,” Vickers said. “I love the fact that it’s unique — I don’t want to go to the same track every week.”
His best result at the one-mile oval was a fifth in 2005. He took a 19th-place in NASCAR’s first visit to Phoenix in April. However, he has had several strong runs there after starting in the top six on six occasions in 10 career starts at Phoenix, taking half a dozen top-20 finishes.
Unfortunately, his results behind the wheel of the Red Bull Toyota haven’t been terrific, with an average finish of 27th, and Vickers is coming off a 26th-place finish in last weekend’s Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
But the result is a bit deceptive since the team arrived in Texas wanting to try something different and went with a set-up that wasn’t what they’d normally run, which ultimately didn’t work. A loose car caused countless headaches; by the time Vickers and the crew decided to switch back to something tried and true, he was already three laps down.
The sacrifice of a good result paid dividends in things the team learned, which has become the point in the Chase now that winning the championship is out of the question.
'Clearly we’re learning and we’re getting better and that’s great.' – Scott Speed
And those lessons may come in handy in Phoenix, where the flat track oval with a dogleg down the backstretch can be a tough nut to crack. “Even as much as I like Phoenix, I don’t want them to go build a bunch more,” Vickers said. “It’s old, worn out and it’s shaped like a triangle — it’s very difficult to set up your car for it, because Turns 1 and 2 are so different from Turns 3 and 4.”
No. 82 Red Bull Toyota driver Scott Speed is coming off his fourth top-20 finish of the season in Texas in a race where he crossed the line eight spots ahead of his teammate in 18th place.
Despite the good result, Speed remained 36th in the car owner standings – 117 points out of the top 35 with two races to go. And he’ll have to improve on his 34th earlier this year in Phoenix if he wants to end the year in the top-35 in owner points.
The good news is that the team is clearly improving as the season comes to a close. “For three months we’ve definitely been better. If you look about where we are right now compared to where we were a year ago, it’s like: ‘Are you kidding?’” he said. “It’s kind of cool to be a part of, honestly, because not many people get that opportunity to do something and really learn it and see the results. But clearly we’re learning it and we’re getting better and that’s great.”
Keep in touch with Brian and Scott's progress in Phoenix at Team Red Bull Racing.