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Manteca native Speed, Team Red Bull rev up for Auto Club 500
Scott Speed, who will start ninth in the Auto Club 500, turns laps during practice for Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway. - photo by RUSTY JARRETT
FONTANA — Although Rick Hendrick Chevrolet teammates Jeff Gordon and reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson dominated the top of the speed charts in Friday morning practice at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, it was Team Red Bull’s Brian Vickers who stole the pole for Sunday’s Auto Club 500 in the afternoon qualifying session.

Vickers, driving the #83 Team Red Bull Toyota, was the fourth driver to take to the 2-mile oval for the afternoon qualifying session, and he patiently watched as his lap time of 39.250 seconds/183.439 mph held up through the remainder of the 48 cars attempting to make the 43 car-starting grid.

“It always feels good to be on the pole,” said Vickers, “I really couldn’t get much more out of the car.”

The pole was also a bit of sweet redemption for Vickers. In last Sunday’s Daytona 500, he was turned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a controversial incident, which resulted in a major crash that put him out of the race.

“Obviously, the best way to move on is to give everyone something else to talk about,” commented Vickers, who received an apology by Earnhardt via phone call earlier this week. “So far we have done that in a positive way this week.”

Johnson will join Vickers on the front row after posting a time of 39.309 seconds/183.164 mph.

“I went with Vickers to In N’ Out Burger and he only had a single while I had a double. I think that extra patty killed me,” joked Johnson.

It was a successful day for Team Red Bull all around, as Vickers’ rookie teammate and Manteca native Scott Speed improved his best practice time by over a half second to qualify ninth with a time of 39.556 seconds/181.965 mph.

“Starting towards the front and running up with the top guys will definitely help us,” commented Speed, driver of the #82 Toyota for Red Bull, “Qualifying is not the hardest thing to learn. The racing experience I am gaining every weekend is what is really adding up and where I am getting a lot better.”

Speed did not feel the lack of practice time hurt him. In the only practice, held earlier in the morning that was his first ever look at the track, he was only able to put in 16 laps.

“It is not the laps that I need, but the racing. Going three wide and making passes on the high-side and the things that are different oval racing an stock cars is what I need to learn,” explained Speed, who will start alongside of Kyle Busch. “I already know how to go fast.”

Other notable qualifiers include Jeff Gordon in the sixth position, Tony Stewart in 11th spot, veteran Mark Martin in 18, last weekend’s Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth in 24th and Earnhardt in 35th.

Speed is cautiously optimistic about his chances on Sunday.

“At least we know we have a good car under us,” said Speed, “We’ll hopefully end up in the top 15 and be able to go from there.”

Sunday’s race will shown live on FOX beginning at 3 p.m.