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+ READY FOR THE GRIND? WE ARE Nearly three months were spent preparing for Daytona. Nearly two weeks were spent racing there. Indeed, Speedweeks is a season within a season & ...


Nearly three months were spent preparing for Daytona. Nearly two weeks were spent racing there. Indeed, Speedweeks is a season within a season — support races, practice after practice, crazy qualifying procedures and the Daytona 500 itself.

Now the grind really begins some 2,500 miles away at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. No Shootout. No Duels. No restrictor plates. And hopefully, no potholes.

"It was good for us to start the season strong and get some points," said No. 82 driver Scott Speed, who led 12 laps in Sunday's Daytona 500 and finished 19th. "Last year, we got in a big hole and it was tough to get out of. It was a really solid way to start the year."

All along, Speed's crew chief, Jimmy Elledge, called the Daytona 500 "a tone-setter." Last season, the No. 82 Red Bull Toyota left Daytona 35th in owner points and fought an uphill battle to the top 35. This season, the No. 82 is 18th in points entering one of Red Bull Racing Team's better tracks.

Speed has two starts at 2-mile Auto Club Speedway. The first came as a rookie last February when an engine failure spoiled a ninth-place qualifying effort. But Speed returned in the fall, starting and finishing 21st.

"The second year, you have higher expectations and make more progress," Elledge said. "We're still a little early for setting the benchmark too high, but I certainly don't expect to be out of the top 35. That doesn't need to be an issue for us."

No. 83 driver Brian Vickers has performed well in his 12 visits to California. He owns two poles there, with the second being his first of six poles in the 2009 season. Vickers earned Red Bull Racing Team's first top 10 when he finished 10th in February 2007. All totaled, he has one top five, four top 10s and has finished in the top 20 two-thirds of the time.

BV finished 15th in the Daytona 500 — a far cry from last season's 500 when he was collected in an accident and ended up 39th. A 2009 Chase participant, Vickers starts the season 16th in points.

"The day after the Daytona 500, it means everything to win at California," said Vickers' crew chief, Ryan Pemberton. "It's a long season, a lot of races. The next one is always the most important one."


How did Josh Houghton break into racing? He lied.

"I wasn't even legal to drive," admitted Houghton, the front tire carrier on the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota. "I had to lie to get my way in, had to tell them I had my license but lost it."

The fib came when Houghton was 15. His father, John, had built him a street stock car to drive at Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, Calif., about a heat race's length away from Houghton's hometown of Lancaster. He won his first race, 12 of 15 events and the track championship.

From there, racing evolved into a career. He graduated high school when he was 16 — a 3.8 GPA affords that luxury — and he, his mom and the dirt car moved to North Carolina. He bumped into Ryan Pemberton, then with MB2 Motorsports and now the No. 83 crew chief, on the local dirt track scene and Pemberton immediately noticed Houghton's mechanical ability and gave him a job at MB2.

"Pretty much started off sweeping floors more than anything," Houghton said.

In 2006, he began slinging 60-pound tires all by himself and that caught the eye of Red Bull Racing Team pit crew coach Lance Munksgard, who was also at MB2 at that time. But the age barrier was still there.

"When we took him on the road, we had to wait a couple of weeks in order to send his NASCAR application in because he wasn't 18 yet," Munksgard said. "He really got into it at a young age, but has handled it with a lot of maturity. It takes a lot of drive to get to this level at such a young age."

Only months later, Houghton was over the wall on race day, carrying tires on the No. 01 car driven by Joe Nemechek. These days, Houghton, now 22, is doing the same thing with Red Bull Racing Team and driver Brian Vickers.

"Lance gave me the chance to see how I'd handle the pressure of going over the wall, and I held my own pretty well," Houghton said. "Back in California, coming here was just a shot. We had no guarantees. It was just me and my mom. We moved out here, and it was overwhelming. We may not have made the right choice, but we did."

Houghton still races his dirt modified here and there, but pitting cars pays the bills and "fulfills my racing itch."

"I'm just living the dream, being able to make a living racing," Houghton said. "From day one that was my goal, to be able to race for a living, whether it was driving, pitting or being a mechanic working on the cars.

"When I jump off the wall, I'm focusing on my job. The cars around me kind of get blanked out. I really don't see what else is going on. Like last week (at Daytona), I almost got hit and never even realized it until we watched the film. It all happens so fast. Your adrenaline is going. And you can only think of one thing and that's your job."


Brian Vickers' 10-race Nationwide Series season will continue this weekend at Auto Club Speedway. He'll drive Braun Racing's No. 32 Dollar General Toyota in Saturday's Stater Bros. 300.

-source: toyota motorsports

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Drivers Joe Nemechek , Scott Speed , Brian Vickers
Teams Red Bull Racing