With the NASCAR season upon us, Red Bull’s stock car athletes are ready for another gruelling summer of racing. Beginning with this weekend’s season opener, the Daytona 500, the Sprint Cup guys will hardly catch their breath in 2011, running 36 races in 39 weeks from February to November before the curtain finally falls on the campaign in Homestead, Miami, on November 20.
It should also be an interesting year for Red Bull’s NASCAR campaign with Kasey Kahne joining the Sprint Cup team, Brian Vickers making his return after eight months away to deal with medical issues, rising star Cole Whitt climbing the ladder with a ride in trucks and extreme athlete extraordinaire Travis Pastrana making his Nationwide debut later in 2011.
So, here are a few of suggestions of things to watch this year...
The new kid in town
Kasey Kahne joins the team as he stops in for a one-year stay in the Red Bull garage before joining the Hendrick Team in 2012. The 11-time Cup race winner will drive the No. 4 Red Bull Toyota, switching the car’s number from 82 to the one he uses when he races sprint cars. In seven seasons of Cup racing, Kahne has 49 Top 5 results in 252 starts, with his best points finish being eighth overall in 2006. After two seasons in the No. 82, driver Scott Speed left the team at the end of 2010. Kahne also brought along his crew chief Kenny Francis to lead the No. 4 team, which saw Jimmy Elledge move to another team in Nationwide.
Kasey Kahne on new teammate Brian Vickers: “We’ve always got along good.We’ve never really done a whole lot together as far as racing, but we’ve got along good. Brian is a really good driver, so I feel like we can work together well. I think we can learn a lot from each other and work together as teammates to help each other and to help our company.”
Whitt keeps on trucking
He may only have 13 races in cars with fenders under his belt, but Cole Whitt certainly makes up for his inexperience with a bucketful of skill. The 19-year-old will race in the Camping World Truck Series in 2011 after a successful season in the K&N Pro Series last year, where he ended up fourth overall in his first year of stock car racing. Judging from his pair of Top 20 finishes in two NASCAR Nationwide starts at the end of 2010, Whitt will make things happen in the truck series.
But it won’t be easy. He faces tough competition as he learns how to race a truck. His first start of 2011 was supposed to be in Friday’s NextEra Energy Resources 250 at the Daytona International Speedway, but he was one of 10 drivers who failed to make the 36-truck field in qualifying. His time was good for 38th, missing the show by 0.089 seconds.
Yup, Brian Vickers beat his blood clotting condition into submission and returned to the No. 83 Red Bull office earlier this year for testing. To say Vickers felt good when he got back into the car would be an understatement of massive proportions. The Red Bull team leader always looks forward to the season-opening Daytona 500 and this year is no different, but fans might notice a changed No. 83 driver in 2011. After spending eight months dealing with a medical condition that caused potentially fatal blood clots, having two surgeries including one to repair a tiny hole in his heart, and worrying his career may be done, Vickers brings a new perspective on life and racing to the track this year.
Brian Vickers on how his ordeal will make him a better driver: “I have no doubt that going through this experience and how it’s changed me personally is going to show up on the race track. My opinion is that it’s going to show up in a better way. I think it’s going to be a benefit to how we perform on and off the race track. There may be times when it’s not, but I believe that the perspective and the growth that I’ve had personally is going to be a positive out there on the race track.”
Is NASCAR ready for Travis Pastrana?
So far, Travis Pastrana has won in just about everything he’s driven, whether it’s on two wheels or four. His latest target is success in the NASCAR Nationwide Series where he’ll make his debut in July at the O’Reilly Raceway Park in Indianapolis. The first stop for the Pastrana-Waltrip Racing team was the 2011 NASCAR Toyota All Star Showdown, where the 11-time X-Games gold medal winner avoided several spins and accidents, steadily improved his pace as the laps counted off, and crossed the line in an impressive sixth place.
But don’t expect Pastrana to slow down much as he prepares for his Nationwide debut. Instead, it’s business as usual for the extreme sports star, who left for New Zealand this month on his Nitro Circus tour, a freestyle motocross exhibition series.