In 2009, Brian Vickers won a race and made the Chase for the Sprint Cup, two firsts for the team, but this year has gone horribly wrong virtually from the get go.
Vickers, of course, is on the sidelines for the remainder of the season after blood clots were detected in his legs and lungs last month.
The team’s other driver, Scott Speed, hasn’t shown the expected improvement in his second full season with the team and is ranked 26th in points.
How bad have things gotten? In last week’s Coca-Cola 600, Speed finished 30th, five laps down, while Vickers’ interim replacement, Casey Mears, was 29th, four laps down.
So this week, the team is changing things up, swapping crew chiefs and five other team members between cars. Ryan Pemberton moves to Speed’s No. 82 Toyota, while Jimmy Elledge will lead Mears and the No. 83 team.
Part of what Pemberton will be doing is helping the team decide whether or not to retain Speed next season.
Asked about Speed’s contract status, Red Bull General Manager and Vice President Jay Frye said the team is weighing its options.
“We’re still looking at different things,” Frye said Friday at Pocono Raceway. “If he continues to get better than there is no anticipation for any kind of a change. ... With these two teams and moving just six people on each team, it gives each crew chief a chance to evaluate the other team, really, because there’s still people on that team that weren’t part of the original team. We’re really evaluating the whole company by doing this.”
Frye made it clear that he expects both cars to start showing improvement as the team heads towards 2011.
“We’re able to experiment right now with some different situations,” Frye said. “We need to get some great momentum to finish this year up and then going into next season. Casey and Jimmy have worked together in the past and they had success. We believe Ryan and Scott can have some success. We’ve just got to get going.”
Frye said no decision has been made on whether Swedish road racer Mattias Ekstrom will drive the No. 83 at upcoming road races in Sonoma, Calif., and Watkins Glen, N.Y.
“We haven’t announced anything on Sonoma,” Frye said. “We’re still evaluating that. Mattias Ekstrom tested for us at (Virginia International Raceway) two weeks ago. He did a great job and then again we’ll know more on that next week. We’re able now to experiment with some different things. We were worried about getting him up to speed in a day. We only had one day that we could test at VIR and he was up to speed in an hour — less than an hour. The guy is a phenomenal talent. He’s a great guy.”
As for Vickers, there’s no change on his status.
“He’s doing great,” Frye said of Vickers. “Again, this is not going to happen overnight. His recovery is a three to six month process. He looks great. He’s doing great, but it’s going to take a while for this process to go through. It’s a three to six month deal. He’s doing well and he’ll be out here Sunday and helping the team.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEEDtv.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.