Vickers, Kahne bring different skills
The talent that Kasey Kahne exhibited on the way to Sunday’s victory at Phoenix International Raceway is just one of the reasons why he will be driving for Hendrick Motorsports in 2012.
And the actions displayed by his Red Bull Racing teammate are precisely why Brian Vickers no longer drives for Hendrick Motorsports and has proved again that he’s not ready for prime time.
Vickers currently has no Sprint Cup ride for next year. His contract is ending with Red Bull Racing and that operation's future is up in the air. That didn't stop Vickers, who vowed to exact revenge on Matt Kenseth after the drivers tangled at Martinsville Speedway, from putting his career in jeopardy. On Lap 177 in the Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix Sunday, Vickers plowed into the back of Kenseth’s car and sent the No. 17 Ford into the wall on the backstretch.
Kenseth started on the pole Sunday but had slipped back on a restart from fifth to 12th as his brakes were wearing thin. Still, after initial contact by the No. 83 Toyota, Vickers just kept plowing the No. 17 Ford forward rather than lifting off the throttle.
Regardless of Vickers’ contrition following the race, his words rang hollow due to previous altercations. Nothing Vickers can say will convince me that what occurred between him and Kenseth was not payback plain and simple.
“Well yeah, obviously it is retaliation for retaliation,” Kenseth said after the wreck. “I was out of brakes and I was up on everybody and I saw him coming and I lifted at least 10 car lengths before where I would normally lift and he drove in there at 165 miles per hour and just cleaned us out.”
In the "boys have at it” era, NASCAR regarded Vickers’ actions as “a racing incident." Vickers had a similar “incident” with Tony Stewart at Sonoma in June when he punted the two-time champ into the tires 23 laps before the finish. Sure, Stewart had it coming. He was relentless with Vickers some 50 laps earlier. Not only did he get into the back of Vickers, he leaned on him until the No. 83 Toyota went around.
Payback is part of racing, but after Vickers retaliated against Kenseth in the closing laps of Martinsville, it should have been over. Yes, Vickers is auditioning. Yes, he’s up on the chip. But at Martinsville, Vickers wrecked Regan Smith and Juan Pablo Montoya long before he reached Kenseth’s bumper.
Kenseth, a former Sprint Cup champion, not only took issue with Vickers, he questioned the officiating considering that Vickers’ previous threats obviously proved that he had contemplated his revenge prior to the execution.
“If NASCAR is going to start parking people for being mad 25 seconds after you wreck and wrecking somebody then you would park somebody for that,” Kenseth said. “You have someone that has been running around telling everybody for four or five weeks that as soon as he got a chance at a fast race track he was going to make it hurt and wipe us out and they do nothing about it.
“It was so premeditated it just surprises me that they didn’t do anything. I am disappointed but I expected it. We aren’t racing street stocks at a quarter-mile track so they need to figure out how to get the drivers to settle their difference in a different way and talk about it or figure it out or do something instead of using your car as a battering ram somewhere this fast.”
Kenseth, who has a solid reputation and is well respected among his peers, said he wished Martinsville had never escalated to the level it did. In hindsight, Kenseth now realizes it would have been better to let Vickers go “because you realize who he is and what he is."
Kenseth said he had absolutely no intention to return the favor at Phoenix because the ramifications could be far too dangerous.
“I would never sit down there and wait for somebody and take a cheap shot like that,” Kenseth added. “You can hurt someone like that and that isn’t sportsmanlike and that isn’t something I would do.”
But Vickers is earning a reputation for violence — and stupidity. He has just two career Cup wins in 254 starts. The first came from hooking his teammate Jimmie Johnson into Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was leading the 2006 fall race at Talladega Superspeedway. Vickers’ second victory was won from the pole in a fuel-mileage contest at the August 2009 Michigan race, then he squeezed into his only Chase by a mere eight points over Kyle Busch.
In the five years that Red Bull supported Vickers, all the 28-year-old could muster was one win and one Chase berth. Yes, Vickers lived “the Red Bull lifestyle” during his tenure with the energy drink company but his performance was far from competitive.
Kahne, in identical equipment, scored his first win for Red Bull in just his 40th start with the organization. In the last nine races, only Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart have scored more points (356) than Kahne (331).
“I wouldn’t say there’s anyone building better cars at this time,” Kahne said following his win. “The Red Bull guys are doing an awesome job and they haven’t given up.
“It’s tough to hear . . . it's closing down in eight days. Over the last three months, you have one of the top-five cars in NASCAR shutting down and it’s crazy.”
Perhaps if the team had contracted an A-lister like Kahne earlier in its existence the Austrian-based sponsor would not have become so disenchanted with the program. And 150 people wouldn’t have to be wondering if they were going to have a job next Monday.