Vickers faces grueling double duty
Brian Vickers will be quite busy this weekend.
He will do a Nationwide Series/Sprint Cup Series road racing doubleheader in events half a continent apart. His itinerary starts with his full-time job this season as he competes in the Nationwide event on Saturday at Road America in Wisconsin for Joe Gibbs Racing. After that event is done, he will jet to California to compete in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, one of his eight events this season in Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55.
Vickers said it is the first time he can recall attempting such a split twin-bill since he raced in some Nationwide events as he competed full-time in the old Hooters Pro Cup Series while racing for his family’s team in Thomasville.
“It’s going to be fun but it is going to be challenging,” Vickers said. “I do think that the fact that the Nationwide race is a road race as well as obviously the Cup race will help, not going from an oval to a road and back and forth.”
The challenges include racing at the 4-mile Road America track for the first time and competing at Sonoma without turning a lap in either practice or qualifying. Vickers said he opted to skip practice at Sonoma so he could become familiar with Road America.
“Unfortunately because of schedules I won’t be able to practice at Sonoma,” Vickers said. “But we decided that it was best to just stay in Road America and focus on that. One, that’s the car we’re racing for a championship, and also I’ve never been to Road America. Starting shotgun and cold turkey there would be much more difficult than Sonoma, where I’ve been racing for 10 years and have experience at the track and we’ve had good runs. There’s no guarantee of future success, but nevertheless I felt a lot more comfortable starting there without practice.”
The tracks require different driving styles. Sonoma has tight, narrow turns, so tight that Vickers calls it a short-track road course while Road America is longer and faster.
“It’s going to take a little different mentality and technique going from Road America which is a little bit faster place to Sonoma which is a slower, more technical road race, but I’m up for the challenge and excited,” Vickers said.
Not surprisingly, Tony Stewart has picked up the pace since the weather started getting warmer.
In the past four races, Stewart has posted a seventh, a first, a fourth and a fifth — a hot streak that has propelled him from 21st to 10th in Sprint Cup standings.
He’s not the only driver on the move. Greg Biffle, who was 13th four events ago, is now eighth after his win at Michigan last Sunday.
With the rise of Stewart and Biffle, Kasey Kahne now leads the wild-card race as the only driver with a victory in positions 11-20.
For the first time in the Cup Series, NASCAR will use a traditional road-racing style of qualifying at Somona. Cars will go out in packs instead of one at a time.
Cars will be grouped according to practice times and they will likely be divided into five or six groups. Cars will be released onto the track at intervals, slowest to fastest. Drivers will have a set period in which to qualify, likely three laps at full speed. A driver’s fastest lap will be his qualifying speed.
“I’ve been hoping for this qualifying for quite some time,” Biffle said. “I loved it in the truck and Nationwide Series when I did it there. It’s almost like it’s less pressure on the driver because you’re not going out there by yourself, one lap, don’t get a tire off anywhere, and have to make a perfect lap. This gives you an opportunity to make two laps, typically two laps. The tires are falling off by the third lap.
“But it kind of feels to me like it takes a little bit of pressure off, and I think it will definitely be more fun to watch the qualifying procedure but a little more excitement.”
A few teams, most of them smaller outfits, will use road-course specialists. The most notable are Jacques Villeneuve, who will drive James Finch’s No. 51, and Ron Fellows, in Joe Falk’s No. 33.
For the Nationwide race, the biggest name road course aces being brought in are Johnny O’Connell in JR. Motorsports’ No. 5 and Max Papis in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 33.