+ LEARNING CURVE SHORTENS SIGNIFICANTLY The number 15 carries special significance for driver No. 82 entering Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Scott Speed's average finish in the two races this season is 15.0. He ranks 15th...
+ LEARNING CURVE SHORTENS SIGNIFICANTLY
The number 15 carries special significance for driver No. 82 entering Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Scott Speed's average finish in the two races this season is 15.0. He ranks 15th in driver points and 15th owner points. And he's led 15 laps.
Those digits reflect just how far the 27-year-old Speed has come in his second season in NASCAR's premier series. At this point one year ago after races at Daytona and California Speed barely sniffed a top-30 finish in the running order or in points, and he had a goose egg in the laps led category.
"These last two weeks have been a great, refreshing start for us," Speed said. "We need to carry that momentum into the next few races to be well in the top 35 and never have to look back at that again."
The top 35 in owner points, the cutoff point that guarantees a team a starting spot in the upcoming race regardless of its qualifying position, has been a hurdle that the No. 82 Red Bull Toyota team has yet to overcome. For three more races, NASCAR will revert back to the final 2009 owner points, where the No. 82 ranked 36th. But as long as Speed continues to show the consistency he's displayed so far this season, the top 35 won't be an issue come the sixth race March 28 at Martinsville.
"We made a lot of progress in the off-season," Speed said. "(Crew chief) Jimmy Elledge and the guys have worked so hard. What's cool for me is how much I've learned. When I'm out there doing stuff, I'm like, Man, I felt so dumb last year because I'm taking stuff for granted now.' I'm just learning with time and experience, and that makes the whole process easier."
Speed's coming off an 11th-place finish in Sunday's race at Auto Club Speedway his best performance in a race without restrictor plates. Couple that with a 19th-place showing in the season-opening Daytona 500, and Speed has back-to-back top-20 finishes for the first time in his career. He's also never been higher in points.
"We know we need this year to go better than last, but I didn't think we would have this good of a start," Speed said. "I aimed for a top 15 last weekend, and we got it. 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, I'm really, really happy."
It was No. 83 driver Brian Vickers who followed Speed across the finish line at Auto Club Speedway. He finished 12th, and coming off a 15th-place run in the Daytona 500, Vickers sits 14th in points. Entering Las Vegas one year ago, Vickers ranked 26th.
"Scott has a year of track time under his belt now. The 82 team as a whole has progressed and learned to work together better," Vickers said. "They showed progress at the end of 2009 and it has transitioned early into this season. It's only two races into the year, but he has run up front and led some laps. That's always a confidence booster and that can hopefully translate into more improved runs for him."
Speed's lone trip to 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway came last year, and it was a weekend of perseverance. He practiced and qualified poorly (48th of 51 cars), and the team immediately changed engines. In the race, Speed finished 21st after going a lap down early, getting it back and then losing it again.
Vickers encountered the same trouble last season at Las Vegas. The No. 83 team, too, changed engines and went to the back before Vickers finished eighth. It was his best finish in five starts there.
+ SATURDAY DRIVE IN SIN CITY
Before a two-month break from Nationwide Series competition, Brian Vickers will drive Braun Racing's No. 32 Dollar General Toyota in Saturday's Sam's Town 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The 2003 series champion opened the season with a fifth-place finish at Daytona and followed that up with an eighth at California. In four Nationwide starts at Las Vegas, Vickers owns a pole (March 2008) and one top-five finish (February 2009).
After Las Vegas, Vickers doesn't return to Nationwide action until the April 24 race at Talladega.
-source: red bull racing team