Brian Vickers thought he finally had some good news in qualifying for the Auto Club 500 on Friday to override the controversy of the past week.
The Red Bull Racing driver won the pole for today’s race, barely beating heavily favored Jimmie Johnson. But about an hour after taking the sixth pole of his NASCAR Sprint Cup career with a lap of 295.19kph, Vickers found out his team would have to change the engine in his No. 83 Toyota, sending him to the back of the 43-car field.
He will still be listed as the pole winner, but the youngster will drop out of line when the cars start moving today and fall to the back, while Johnson, whose fast lap was 294.76kph, gets to lead the field to the green flag.
The pole would have been big for Vickers, especially in the wake of the Daytona 500 controversy that was sparked when Dale Earnhardt Jr and Vickers collided, setting off a 10-car crash.
Vickers had forced Earnhardt below the yellow out-of-bounds line on the Daytona oval and Earnhardt turned back up the banking and hit Vickers, igniting the multicar crash and a whole lot of finger pointing.
Vickers said he and his team would love to put Daytona behind them, going from the pole to lead every lap and win today’s race.
“I think the next challenge is going to be a lot more difficult than the first one,” Vickers said.
Much more so now.
Johnson, who has three wins on the 3.2km Auto Club Speedway oval, was asked how the lack of off-season testing — a ban imposed by NASCAR to save the teams money in the current economic climate — affected Friday’s performance in practice and qualifying.
“I kind of forgot about the fact that we haven’t tested as today got started,” the three-time reigning Cup champion said. “I don’t know, I guess I haven’t put a lot of thought in to it. In some ways it reminded me of kind of the last time we were here. The guys that were fast last time at this track were fast again.”