tampabay.com

Vickers at ease about new team

By BRANT JAMES
Published November 5, 2006


FORT WORTH, Texas - The writing was not on the wall, but it certainly appeared to be right there on the scoring monitor.

Brian Vickers had won his first Nextel Cup pole of the season Friday at Texas Motor Speedway, producing the fastest qualifying lap in NASCAR's top series in nearly a decade. It was another late highlight - following his first Cup win Oct. 8 - as he wound down his final races with Hendrick Motorsports before joining Team Red Bull's start-up Toyota program in 2007.

But there, 50th on the monitor, was former Champ Car standout A.J. Allmendinger, Vickers' future teammate, who had missed out for the second straight week in his effort to qualify for his Nextel Cup debut. Bill Elliott failed to make the race in a Red Bull car at Charlotte, and Allmendinger, who also needed to qualify on time, went home after time trials were rained out at Atlanta.

That begged the question: With Vickers having four top 10s and a win in the past seven weeks, did he make a mistake to jump out of a strong program for a start-up just as things were looking better?

"No second thoughts at all," Vickers said. "I think a little adversity is good for a new team. I think a little adversity is good for any team at times to keep you grounded and keep you working hard."

Vickers, 23, said it was unfair to judge Red Bull and Allmendinger on one qualifying effort.

"I think it was asking a lot of him to come here for his first qualifying at any Cup event and start at Texas, which is a hard track to qualify," Vickers said.

FAREWELL: Texas native Terry Labonte is making his final start in NASCAR's top series today. The series champion in 1984 and 1996 and 22-race winner, Labonte will lead the field on the parade lap before falling back to his qualifying position for the pace laps. His son, Justin Labonte, will drive the 1978 Stratagraph Chevrolet his father drove in his first Cup win at Darlington Raceway in 1980.

CRUNCH: Mark Martin, who enters the eighth Chase for the Championship race eighth in points, 201 out of first, will have to go to the back of the field with a backup car after a second collision in practice. Tony Raines suffered damage to the left side of his car when he pinched down on Martin as the No. 6 Ford headed for pit road. "These things are so aero sensitive that even though we might be able to fix it, you won't get it back right, and that could make for a real long day," crew chief Pat Tryson said of switch cars.

HANGING OUT: The recent influx of open-wheel drivers into NASCAR made the sight of Andretti Green Racing's Dario Franchitti atop Jeff Burton's hauler intriguing. Turns out, the Indy Racing League veteran said he was invited to Texas Motor Speedway by Richard Childress, the owner of the team for which Burton races. Childress recently bought a helicopter from the company Franchitti endorses.

SPARK PLUGS: Points leader Matt Kenseth, who qualified 36th, struggled to find speed in practice, 21st-quickest of 43 cars in the first and 24th in the final session.