Brian Vickers charged to the front in practice speeds Friday and then maintained that speed to win the pole position for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 3M Performance 400 presented by Bondo at Michigan International Speedway.
Vickers, driving the No. 83 car, knocked two-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson off the pole by a wide margin. Vickers posted a speed of 188.536 miles per hour to blow past Johnson’s 187.028 mph. Elliott Sadler and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will occupy the second row with Jeff Gordon and Patrick Carpentier comprising row three.
“We’ve come a long way since last year and we still have a lot of harder work ahead of us to get to the front,” said Vickers following his fifth career pole in 159 starts and first this season. “When we unloaded the car it was just awesome right out of the gate. It handled and had such good grip. Sometimes you just hit it (right combination). You don’t know why. If you did you could do it every week.”
Vickers said he was surprised he could put so much speed between himself and Johnson, of Hendrick Motorsports, during practice but was a little leery of maintaining that spread once qualifying started.
“That is a great team, the team to beat in our sport,” Vickers said, “And to lay down a lap like that was great. I thought it would be tough to post a 38.40-second lap and then to get a 38.189 was just great. With this new car you don’t have to make as many changes as you had to in the past, but the track will go through changes, the car will have to be adjusted and while the pole is great, what you shoot for is what you do at the end of the day on Sunday.”
Johnson wasn’t as surprised as some at the differentiation in speed from first to second.
“It didn’t really shock me that much because he’s more of a guy who ran up front the majority of the race here last June,” Johnson explained. “I think that team and Brian, this is a track that fits their style. When Brian drove at Hendrick Motorsports this was one of his stronger tracks. Even though he didn’t have a great finish here in the spring he led a lot of laps and was very, very tough and is going to be more of a threat at race time here tomorrow.
“I knew mine wasn’t the perfect lap from inside the car. The car was much tighter than it needed to be and I was shocked to hear the lap time when I got back to the start-finish line. It wasn’t all that bad but I knew someone could go better and I knew Vickers was strong throughout the entire practice and sure enough he put up a big number.”
Sprint Cup points leader Kyle Busch qualified in the 11th starting position.
Q&A Brian Vickers
How was your qualifying lap?
“I’m really proud of everybody at Red Bull and Toyota. Obviously, we’ve come a long way since last year, but even with how far we’ve come we still have to continue to work hard to keep going and getting better. And even when you get to the front you still have to work even harder to stay there. That’s how fast this sport evolves. I’m really proud of everybody. Today when we unloaded the car was just awesome -- just really happy with it right out of the gate. It just handled well. It had good grip. Sometimes you just hit it. You don’t really know why. You wish you knew exactly what caused that because you’d do it every week. Today we just hit it. We tried some stuff in practice that didn’t work and went back to where we started. We made a few minor adjustments for qualifying and man that thing was just awesome.”
Are you surprised at the margin over Jimmie Johnson when you looked at the times?
“Yeah, absolutely. That’s a great team. That is the team to beat in our sport for the past several years. To be able to lay that lap down in practice with that much of a difference between first and second and to be able to back it up in qualifying -- I knew that we had a good car but still I was thinking it was going to be tough to get back to a 40, a 48 or whatever we ran in practice. Then to go out there and run an 18 was just really unbelievable. It just says a lot about the whole team -- the whole package. It’s not just one component or one piece or one person. Today, the Red Bull 83 team was just on. You wish you could take that and apply it to every week, but it’s just not that easy. If it was that easy everybody would do it.”
Is it easier to be patient when you can see the progress this team is making?
“Yeah, anytime that you can see progress and you can feel progress patience comes a lot easier. When you’re going the wrong direction patience is hard to come by. Out of everything I’ve done in motorsports or really in life in general I would say that patience is probably the most important aspect. It’s funny, I think as you get older and you go through experiences in life you learn to be more patient. Sitting here at 24 I desire to be more patient and I think, ‘Well, why can’t I just do it. I don’t know. I wish I could just be more patient.’ And then five years later you are more patient and you don’t really know why, but you just are. A lot of it just comes with time. It’s definitely something that I feel like as a person if you continually strive for it you will become more patient but it’s not a switch. Sometimes things just take time no matter how bad you want them.”
How happy are you to see both Red Bull cars having success at this point in the season?
“We’re getting there. It takes time. Obviously with a new team and a new manufacturer takes a lot of time. We went through a lot of growing pains. Don’t let anybody say we didn’t work our butt off and earn it because we went through some really tough times. Last year was one of the hardest years I went through in my racing career but we’re getting better. I’m really proud of the 84 (AJ Allmendinger) guys for getting into the top-35 after last week. That’s a big accomplishment. I know looking back at my career at Red Bull that was probably the biggest thing that we’ve accomplished to date.”
How much will you change before Sunday’s race to get the car race ready?
“Obviously just because you qualified first doesn’t mean you’re going to finish first at the end of the race. A lot of changes go into the setup of the car -- how you approach the race track. We’re going to have to make some changes. We’ve found with this car that you don’t have to make quite as many changes maybe as you’re used to in the old car, but we’ll have to make some adjustments to make the car run well and run well on a long run and do it for an entire race. The track goes through changes so you’ll make changes in the race no matter how good you start out. You try to be just the best you can at the end of the race on the last lap because today’s over and the pole is great but it’s the end of the day on Sunday that matters the most.”
Are you surprised with how well your car handled?
“Anytime you lay a lap down like that I think there’s a little bit of surprise. We knew we had a good car the moment we unloaded. The first lap on the race track it really even surprised us. We tried some things that didn’t work in practice and went back on those and made a few minor adjustments for qualifying. Obviously, I’m really happy. The car was probably one of the best cars I’ve ever had. Just because you’re first in practice doesn’t mean you’re going to be first in qualifying. Today it just happened to work out that way. I wish you could say it was some magic pill we put in the car or some magic setup that we had but it wasn’t. It was just right when we unloaded and it was right for qualifying.”
Notes from MIS
- Patrick Carpentier was the 6th fastest in qualification, the fastest of the "rookies". Then again, he won the last CART race at MIS in 2001, and ran in the 2005 IRL Firestone 400 at Michigan, so it's not like he doesn't know where the corners are. Dario Franchitti also has the distinction of running in CART, IRL and NASCAR at MIS — hopefully he doesn't land upside down this year like he did in the last IRL race here.
- Rumors still persist, even on Team Red Bull, that Scott Speed will replace AJ Allmendinger next year in NASCAR. It certainly doesn't help that Allmendinger qualified 33rd while his teammate won the pole. Scott might be weird, the crew says, but he can drive.
- According to sources with one of the bigger NASCAR teams, it now takes about $8-$12 million per year for a Nationwide team to run competitively, This means it competes, dollar for dollar, with IRL cars for sponsorships, which need the same range of funds. This year's Nationwide field at MIS is notable for the "softness" of the sponsorships on the cars, which indicates that sponsors are getting tougher to find. Hopefully that means that potential sponsors are looking at the Indy 500 and the IRL as a better value.
- MIS is planting trees, restoring wetlands, buying carbon credits, and planning windmills, and they are certainly proud of that part of their future. MIS President Roger Curtis says that such efforts position the whole environmental effort "between the 2 extremes", being both pro-business and pro-environment. The Speedway bought credit offsets for the estimated carbon footprint of the entire weekend — race cars, workers, lights, and of course, cars and RVs driven by fans.
- Of course, what AutoRacing1 fans REALLY want to know about MIS is that plans are still being developed to renovate the entire 3.6-mile road racing course -- which was designed by Stirling Moss -- perhaps even to FIA spec. MIS hasn't used the infield portion of the track for competition since 1984 (IMSA), and the exterior half hasn't been used competitively since 1973. Such a track, even if not to FIA standards, might also be used by the numerous automotive R&D companies that still populate Michigan, which was one of the justifications for building the track in 1967. No doubt the management here thinks that a 12- or 24-hour race, featuring Grand-Am cars from ISC's sister organization, would be a great replacement for the Indy race (which seems to be lost for any foreseeable future).
- The weather in Michigan seems to be the exact opposite of last August's race, when rain and fog moved the race to the following Tuesday. Sunburn, mild breezes and fluffy clouds are the order of the weekend. Then again, this IS Michigan weather we're talking about....
||Dale Earnhardt Jr.
||Juan Pablo Montoya
||Sam Hornish Jr.
||Martin Truex Jr.