+ RED BULL: BACK-TO-BACK IN SOCAL Maybe someday one of these gambles will pay off. Until then, Scott Speed enjoyed perhaps the best performance of his two-year Sprint Cup career. Driver No. 82 finished 11th in Sunday's Auto Club 500 -- Speed's...
+ RED BULL: BACK-TO-BACK IN SOCAL
Maybe someday one of these gambles will pay off. Until then, Scott Speed enjoyed perhaps the best performance of his two-year Sprint Cup career.
Driver No. 82 finished 11th in Sunday's Auto Club 500 -- Speed's best non- restrictor plate finish in 42 Sprint Cup starts. Right on Speed's tail was teammate and No. 83 driver Brian Vickers, who finished 12th.
"If you take the whole weekend - we really did close to 100 percent," Speed said.
Speed's No. 82 Red Bull Toyota was 20th in the opening practice at Auto Speedway and 10th in the final session. He qualified 13th and fought handling issues in the first half of the race as either sun showered the 2-mile track or clouds covered it.
It wasn't until 100 laps remained when Speed radioed that his car handled the best it had all day. As ominous clouds approached near the 200-lap mark, crew chief Jimmy Elledge kept Speed on the track during a light rain shower. He led three laps, and the team had hopes that the skies would open up. They didn't, and Speed eventually pitted for much-needed fuel and tires.
The gamble was reminiscent of a week earlier at Daytona, when Elledge, with dicey drafting and the potential for the Daytona surface to again break apart, kept Speed out on old tires to lead 12 laps late in the race. A timely caution never waved, and Speed finished 19th in the Daytona 500.
"I would have laughed my ass off if we would have won that race under rain," Speed said. "We put ourselves in the best position every single time the rain was coming."
The restart came with 50 laps to go with Speed in 19th. He charged to 10th, saying the car was the "most consistent and balanced it's been." The money stop came with 25 laps remaining, and a flawless effort by the No. 82 crew helped Speed maintain track position.
Speed, in a spirited duel with Vickers, held that track position and finished 11th to score back-to-back top-20 finishes for the first time in his career.
"Awesome weekend. I can't say enough," Speed said. "I didn't think we would run as good as we did. We legitimately ran in the top 10 for the last half of the race - once we got track position. For this being the beginning of my second year here pretty much -- I'm really, really happy."
Vickers' No. 83 Red Bull Toyota was one of the race's strongest cars. After starting 23rd, he was running seventh only 30 laps in and stayed there until he encountered a tight-handling car back in traffic after the No. 83 took four tires and other front-runners took two during a series of stops at lap 142.
Vickers led three laps during the next round of green-flag pit stops, staying out as long as he could with the threat of rain. He, too, was hoping for a weather-related caution and pitted to return to track in 19th. One more stop helped ease the car's loose condition as Vickers worked his way back to his rightful place near the top 10.
He finished 12th for his second top 15 of the season and ninth top 20 in 13 starts at Auto Club Speedway.
"We had a good car. I think we had a top-five car," Vickers said. "A couple of times -- just pit strategy, two (tires) or four got us off base. The one time we stayed out because it was raining, we kept running and everybody short- pitted. They should have thrown the caution because it was raining pretty hard, and they didn't. And we lost a lot of ground with everybody short- pitting. They had new tires. That pretty much got us behind the rest of the day."
Entering Sunday's race at Las Vegas, Vickers ranks 14th in points. Speed sits 15th -- the highest he's been in his Sprint Cup career.