Five years. More than 120,000 miles of competition. Two victories and a Chase. Countless hotel rooms, rental cars and expense reports. That party in Vegas.
Red Bull Racing Team left its mark in NASCAR, and the checkered flag Sunday put an end to the team’s stay in the Sprint Cup Series.
“It’s been a good five years. Can’t thank everyone enough,” said Brian Vickers, who on June 26, 2006, was announced as driver of the No. 83 for the team’s debut in 2007. “I just want to thank everyone at Red Bull, Toyota and all the guys for their hard work through the years. This is it.”
The finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway was the team’s 172nd race, and Kasey Kahne’s seventh-place finish, Vickers’ 17th and Cole Whitt’s 37th will go down as footnotes in the organization’s history and in an event that saw champion Tony Stewart and runner-up Carl Edwards trade blows in the 12th round.
Vickers made 141 starts in the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota and one in the old No. 84. He totaled 11 top fives, 34 top 10s and seven poles, including six in 2009. That same season, Vickers and the No. 83 team qualified for the Chase with a late-summer surge and the team’s first victory in August at Michigan.
“We won a race, made the Chase and sat on poles. The only goal we didn’t accomplish was the championship."
“We had some ups and downs. Unfortunately, this year wasn’t one of our better ones,” Vickers said. “We won a race, made the Chase and sat on poles. The only goal we didn’t accomplish was the championship. I don’t think that’s too bad.”
Kahne’s seventh-place finish capped the team’s best season statistically. In a one-year deal in the No. 4 Red Bull Toyota, Kahne set team marks for top fives (eight), top 10s (15) and laps led (340). He closed the season with a victory Nov. 13 at Phoenix, seven top 10s in the final eight races and an average finish of 7.9 in the final 10.
The team threw major adjustments at the No. 4 coming out of a 1-hour, 14-minute red flag for rain. “That’s a lot of fixing we did,” crew chief Kenny Francis later said.
He restarted 24th and slowly crept to the front. A two-tire stop moved Kahne inside the top 10 with 106 laps remaining and he was up to fifth 20 laps later, picking off cars before a green-flag stop. But the car tightened up over the final run that included 17 laps under caution because of rain.
"They brought a lot of great race cars to the track and nobody gave up and we were right there throughout the whole final three months.”
“I think we had the best car there those couple runs before the final run,” Kahne said. “We were flying. It felt really good and then we just got tight in that final run. I was kind of surprised we got tight, but the two runs before that our Red Bull Toyota is I think the fastest car on the track after about 10 laps and we were coming. It was good and it was fun passing cars and having a great car again. The team guys were awesome. They brought a lot of great race cars to the track and nobody gave up and we were right there throughout the whole final three months.”
Coming off his rookie season in the Camping World Truck Series, Whitt made his second Sprint Cup start in the No. 84.
He had worked his way back on the lead lap before getting collected in an accident on lap 154 when the No. 51 of Landon Cassill went spinning down the backstretch. Heavy damage to the front end, and Whitt took his first post-Cup crash ambulance ride to the infield care center, where he was treated and released.
“We worked hard to get back on the lead lap,” Whitt said. “We were racing pretty decent there — kind of coming back passing some guys back up on the lead lap and doing pretty good. I feel like we were just getting a little bit better. We were fighting a really loose race car all night and finally got it decent. It looked like Jamie (McMurray) just spun the 51 (Cassill) and the 51 overcorrected where I thought he was just going to spin to the inside. He obviously overcorrected and went the other way and the hole closed up so we got into it with him and just ended our night. It just stinks that we got caught up in someone else’s mess.”
Whitt remains a Red Bull athlete and will continue his climb up the NASCAR ranks in 2012.
Follow Red Bull Racing Team on Twitter: @RedBullNASCAR.