An Interview With: BRIAN VICKERS A.J. Allmendinger DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's NASCAR teleconference in advance of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Infineon Raceway at Sonoma, California. It's the ...
An Interview With:
DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's NASCAR teleconference in advance of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Infineon Raceway at Sonoma, California. It's the Toyota Save Mart 350, one of the Series' two road course events. Joining us today are the two drivers from Team Red Bull, Brian Vickers, driver of the No. 83 Toyota, and A.J. Allmendinger, driver of the No. 84 Toyota. Both are on the move.
Brian, who starts off this call, comes off two consecutive Top-5 finishes. In addition, his pit crew won the NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge last month. A.J., who will join us at approximately 2:15 eastern time, has two consecutive Top-10 runs. Also last month he won the Sprint Showdown, a preliminary event that earns him a berth in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race.
Brian, we'll start with you. Obviously things are looking up for your team. What's been the difference of late?
BRIAN VICKERS: Well, you know, we have definitely been running better lately, that's for sure. It's always hard to pinpoint exactly what the cause is, and it's rarely one single event or one cause, but I think it's a culmination of a lot of things.
Jay Frye coming on board this year has given a lot of leadership and inspiration to the team and a lot of experience and knowledge in the sport, which we definitely needed. He's done a great job with that. He's brought in a lot of new people on board that have done a great job, and also kind of redirected the talents of a lot of existing employees.
And when you combine all those together, you think about Toyota, learning and growing, their second year, TRD's second year building Cup engines and just having a year under our belts, things are starting to come around, and we've just got to keep this momentum going and hopefully get back in the Top 12.
Q: Sonoma has been a good track for you. You won the Grand National race out there a couple years ago. Do you look forward to going to the road course, and is it an extra challenge for the Toyotas?
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, as far as your first question on Sonoma itself, I enjoy Sonoma. I enjoy road course racing. Obviously what I like most about Sonoma is probably the wine (laughter). It's just a good trip out there, and it's a lot of fun. It's beautiful, beautiful country. I actually usually go into San Francisco and spend the night there either before or after the race.
As far as the racetrack itself is concerned, it's fine. One thing about our sport is we have a lot of diversity as far as the track is concerned, and everybody always asks the same question, what's your favorite track. I'd probably have lean toward Darlington on that, but I what I like most is going to a different track and different configuration and different style every week. And two road courses on the circuit add a lot to that. You know, we did win the Grand National race out there a few years back, and that was awesome, and it was fun to win on a road course.
My Cup experience at that racetrack has been up and down, some decent rides and some bad rides. But the testing we've done recently on road courses I've been really pleased with and been pretty happy with our cars, and hopefully we can take some momentum from the past several weeks and carry it into Sonoma.
Q: Just touching on something you said in your first question there about Toyota and their development, can you kind of just sum up the difference from year one to halfway through year two?
BRIAN VICKERS: Well, you know, there's been a big difference, and some of it just takes time. Some of it has come from intentional, deliberate changes that have been made in the program to try to make it better.
One thing that I think people don't realize is that -- it's not necessarily a good or bad thing, but TRD builds our engines and builds Michael Waltrip engines, and Gibbs builds their own engines. You know, TRD has come a long ways, I mean, a long ways. We started out at the end of last year having a lot of mechanical problems, and NASCAR changed a lot of dimensions for Toyota which really threw them for a curve ball right at the very last second. They were kind of in the Cup Series expecting to run the block they had been running for years in the Truck Series and had to start over basically. That was tough to overcome, but they did a good job.
You know, we went through a lot of other struggles last year, but this year we've gotten a lot better. Our bottom end power is probably still where we're lacking the most, but the top end power, I think we're right there with the best of them.
Gibbs obviously has helped a lot. Gibbs has had a very successful engine program for many years, and obviously coming to Toyota, you know, there was some new parts to it, but the basic process and building these engines was still the same, and I think they've helped bring the whole pie up a little bit.
But at the same time, they haven't shared everything. Gibbs is not -- they do their own engines. It's not an in-house Toyota engine, so it is a different program. But when you take a look at where Michael Waltrip Racing is and where Red Bull is, how much we've gained and how strong TRD and Toyota is compared to last year, you know, maybe TRD hasn't won a race yet, but we've had a second place, we've had two Top 5s in a row and had very little failures or mechanical problems like we had last year. So I'm really proud of them. I think they've come a long ways, and I see a lot of potential for the future.
Q: How much of the growth do you attribute to only having to get one car ready as opposed to two?
BRIAN VICKERS: Explain your question one more time. What do you mean getting one car ready as opposed to two?
Q: Last year going between the old car and the new car throughout the season. This year it's just one.
BRIAN VICKERS: I'm sorry, I misunderstood you. Yeah, as far as just having to worry about one car has made a big difference. I think that NASCAR's implementation of the new car last year helped spread the cost of that change-over out, and I think it was probably the right way to go. But it did make it very difficult, especially for new teams coming on board. Learning one car is hard enough, but having to learn two makes it pretty difficult.
So this year has been a lot easier. When you get a test, you don't have to decide which car you want to go test, you just go test, and you try to get those cars the best you can.
It's made it a lot easier, I think, for everybody involved, especially for the new teams. It helps us focus our resources a little bit more because our resources are somewhat inexperienced and limited.
Q: I was wondering if you could talk for a moment about your teammate A.J. and just how he's come back strong, and what's changed since he took the break for a few races there?
BRIAN VICKERS: I think that A.J. is a very talented race car driver. He has good car control. He is very new to our sport and our cars. People forget, and it's really not fair to him, that he never raced ovals or stock cars his entire career, his entire life, and then he just went straight into Cup racing, ran a few Truck races and went straight to Cup, which in hindsight probably wasn't quite the approach that should have been taken. But he dealt with it, and he's rebounded.
This year him coming out of the car for a little while and Mike Skinner coming on board I think really helped that team kind of understand some of the things that A.J. was feeling and helped him and helped the team and just helped the whole process and helped those guys get a little bit of a head start on the Top 35 and was a good thing for him. I think it was very frustrating, and I'm sure it was for him at first, but I think now he looks back on it and sees that it's a positive, and it's obviously showed in their racing performance.
Q: From a distance it seems like he handled the switch pretty well, I mean, all things considered. Instead of lashing out he seemed to be pretty humble about it.
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, I honestly didn't end up having a lot of conversations with him about it. I'm not sure how he handled it in the media, but for the most part when I saw him, he obviously seemed disappointed and not really happy about it, which hey, he's a race car driver, who would have been. But now looking back on it, I definitely think he sees it as a positive, and I think at the time he handled it as best as anyone could expect him to.
He listened to Mike, he worked with Mike, they went and did a lot of testing together. It was a lot more than just Mike running the car for a few races. Mike went to a lot of tests with him, they got in and out of the car. Mike would set it up one way and say this is what it feels like. There was a lot more to that than I think even people realize.
Q: You mentioned a moment ago that you liked this track. The debate always comes up this time of year about road courses, no road courses. Why should road courses be part of the NASCAR mix?
BRIAN VICKERS: I think if you want to -- especially on an international level, personally I like the diversity of the series. I like the fact that we go to Martinsville, Talladega, to a road course. I think from an international flair, to bring in international fans, I think you've got to go to a road course. Granted, I do think that our cars put on a better show on ovals, but having a couple road courses in there I think is a good mix. I think it's a great mix.
It's tough for me going to Sonoma because I have to admit, personally I'm probably a bigger fan of Watkins Glen; it's a little bit higher speed faster road course than Sonoma is. But I'm also a big fan of wine (laughing), so going out to Sonoma is always a good experience. It's just beautiful country and you get to do a lot of fun stuff while you're out there.
Q: How much of a test of your skills is it to race on a road course?
BRIAN VICKERS: You know, I think it's a test of your flexibility as a driver. You can be an extremely talented race car driver and not be good at road courses. Earnhardt, Sr., wasn't the best at road courses but arguably one of the best drivers of all time. Just because you don't run good on a road course doesn't mean you're not a good driver. But I think the more tracks you can run good at, it says a lot about your flexibility as a driver to adapt to different scenarios in racing, from short tracks to super speedways to medium tracks to road courses.
Q: You had some questions after the race out on Pit Road this past weekend. I wonder if you ever went to NASCAR and got the full explanation so that you understood better or maybe have a different view of it.
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, you know, your question is about the 8 car. I had some questions at the end of the race before the last caution. We passed the 8 car about two laps before the caution came out, and then under caution they put the 8 car in front of us. To be honest with you, I was furious (laughing), I was pretty upset about it, and rightfully so. I wanted an explanation as to why that took place. You know, I felt like in a lot of ways it cost us a shot at the race. There's no guarantees what would have happened, but it definitely hurt us.
I did talk to them after the race and they said we made an honest mistake; the 8 car was supposed to be behind you. I think it's all you can ask for. It's like when a driver on the racetrack gets into you, it makes all the difference in the world if they call you up the next day and say, man, I'm sorry, I messed up, I'm sorry. Let's just more forward from here on. I totally respect that. I've made many, many, many mistakes in my life, and I probably will make many more, and I think the important thing is you just own up to it and move on.
Unfortunately in our sport, and if I was sitting in the tower, I couldn't do it any different, you can't just call a time out and go look at the replay and sort it out. I mean, you're talking about -- you look at a football game and they get a bad call on the field, they call a time out and they look at the replay and they fix it and they move on. Well, that's one call. For those guys it's 43 calls up in the tower. They have 43 positions to sort out every caution, not one. It's a tough job, you know, and they can't just pause the race. They've got guys running out of fuel, the race is coming to an end, and it's time to go green and get the checkered out there, so it's time to move on.
But they did say they made a mistake and owned up to it, and that's all you can ask for.
Q: After experiencing the top levels of racing for a few seasons, is every race still an adventure for you?
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, some are more adventurous than others (laughter). Every race is an adventure. I love racing and I love what I do. You know, I just enjoy life. I think it definitely is an adventure every time you get out on the racetrack, what kind of car you're going to have, what kind of situations you're going to have, how do you get out of them and how do you prepare for the end of the race to be the best, just the sheer fact of going 200 miles an hour.
I think the biggest adventure I've had recently, though, is I've kind of taken on skydiving as a hobby. That's a new adventure for me. Jumping out of a plane at 13,000 feet is almost like -- it's almost taken me back to like when I first started racing.
Q: You mentioned flexibility of race car drivers. Do you think that flexibility separates from the pros from the wannabes, so to speak?
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, I do. I think that the ability to adapt, the ability to stay focused. Some of the best race car drivers in the world in my mind are the ones that can adapt to the different situations, different cars. You know, the really good drivers when their car is not just right will move around with it until they find a place for it to work. Not every track allows for that. Michigan is probably more prone to that than others. You have a lot of options from a line standpoint, but drivers can move around and adapt to a car and adapt to a track in different situations and stay calm, cool and collected in all those situations, no matter what comes up, can stay focused and mentally keep it together.
Q: What are the drivers told either in the driver meeting or in the rule book about passing the pace car?
BRIAN VICKERS: It is not allowed and it's illegal.
DENISE MALOOF: Brian, thank you very much for joining us today. Best of luck this weekend.
BRIAN VICKERS: Thanks so much for having me on, and hopefully we can keep that momentum going.
Continued in part 2