Nearly a month ago, the entire Red Bull Racing organization was turned upside down with the news Brian Vickers would be forced to miss the remainder of the season due to treatments for blood clots. Vickers’s close friend Casey Mears was brought in as the replacement driver for the No. 83 team and, while hit with a setback, the organization appeared optimistic moving forward.
Team Vice President and General Manager Jay Frye told Frontstretch last month in Charlotte, “You get a guy like Casey that has driven for guys like Hendrick, Childress and Ganassi, [he can] get in our cars and evaluate the car, the motor, just [give us] different opinions on things [moving forward].”
Now, after four lackluster outings culminating in spinning out his teammate at Michigan, Mears has been replaced by Reed Sorenson as the relief driver of the No. 83 for at least the next two weeks, and things are continuing to shake up behind the scenes at Red Bull Racing.
“Our unique situation has afforded us the opportunity to try some different things, and we’re continuing to do that with Reed,” said Frye in making the change. “We appreciate Casey’s work and everything he’s done the past five weeks.”
Over those past five weeks, this organization has endured the loss of their most experienced driver, a crew chief swap, a teammate run-in on the track, and the departure of longtime competition director Elton Sawyer. Through it all, neither Mears nor Scott Speed has finished higher than 20th.
That has ultimately led Frye to shake things up even more.
Reed’s Second Chance
Ousted from Richard Petty Motorsports at the end of the 2009 season, Sorenson was forced to take a step back and run in the Nationwide Series for Braun Racing. Ironically, Sorenson was slated to split the Nationwide schedule with Vickers in the No. 32 car throughout the 2010 season; now, he’ll drive the rest of the year with Vickers on the shelf.
In 10 starts for Braun, Sorenson has proven he can run with the Cup regulars, earning four top-fives and eight top-10s while finishing runner-up at Nashville in April. In just the last two races alone, he’s led 64 laps while producing an average finish of 6.0.
With a new opportunity to climb behind the wheel of a solid Cup Series ride, Sorenson now has the second chance few get to enjoy. Much like Mears, Sorenson also brings the experience of working with Jimmy Elledge, now the crew chief for the No. 83 car.
Pegged early in his career as one of the brightest young prospects in NASCAR, some have argued Sorenson’s move into the Cup Series in 2006 was too quick and full of unrealistic expectations. After the humbling experience of being sent to the minors – so to speak – and a solid start to the year in the Nationwide Series, perhaps now is Reed’s time to shine.
There is no guarantee that Sorenson will help the progress of the Red Bull organization any more than Mears did, but apparently in the eyes of the decision makers behind the scenes, it is worth the try. The team will run him at New Hampshire, Daytona and Chicago, with the situation to be re-evaluated during the off week in July.
Sawyer Part of Larger Shake-Up
When Jay Frye told Frontstretch this situation allowed the team to experiment with various things, many figured that meant on the racetrack. Judging by the news Elton Sawyer would be leaving the organization at the end of this week, though, his moves are not only focused on the track but off.
The former Nationwide and Cup Series driver joined Red Bull Racing when the team started up in 2006, and has served as the competition director since. As of late, Sawyer has been working with development driver Cole Whitt and helping Mattias Ekstrom, the European road-course veteran preparing to make his first Cup Series start in the No. 83 this weekend in Sonoma.
Talking with FoxSports.com, Frye explained that Sawyer’s position had “become redundant” over the years, explaining had the organization expanded to a three-car team, the position may have been retained. When asked last month about expanding to a three-car organization, Frye hinted at the possibility of bringing Whitt into the mix in the future, but was clear the team was forced to focus on their immediate problems before expanding simply to expand.
What’s Next For Mears?
The tale of Mears continues on after being booted by Red Bull Racing just five weeks into their venture together. One of the most shuffled drivers in the garage, Mears has now raced for Chip Ganassi, Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, Raymond Key, Tommy Baldwin, Red Bull Racing and was also slated as Denny Hamlin‘s relief driver at Joe Gibbs Racing earlier this year.
The 32-year-old seemed surprised by the team’s decision, telling FoxSports.com, “I honestly don’t know what to say. I didn’t get a lot of answers. Obviously, we weren’t running well, which was problematic. They have a lot of great people over there, but we just couldn’t put it [together] on the track.”
Unfortunately for Mears, that seems to be the norm and not the exception. Brought on by some of the biggest and best organizations, Mears has never had the results to show for the top-level equipment he’s driven. Shuffled around so much, some figured the inconsistency was to blame, but after eight years of poor results and great opportunities, it seems there is a larger issue at hand – and Red Bull Racing cannot afford to wait around for those results. The team does maintain a return to the driver’s seat is possible, as no long-term decision has been made, but at this point there’s no guarantees.
For now, Mears will head back to Tommy Baldwin Racing to drive the No. 36 in Loudon and continues to look for something solid.
Rough Road Ahead for Red Bull Racing
After a strong season last year with one win and a Chase berth, Red Bull Racing appeared poised to make 2010 even stronger. With the unfortunate developments of the last month, though, things have gone south very quickly.
Their initial solution to the problem, Mears, did not work out as planned, switching crew chiefs Ryan Pemberton and Jimmy Elledge has yet to pan out, and now Speed is facing another slump. Things will continue to shake up for this organization as they try to weather this storm, but throughout the entire process one person has been absent from the spotlight and devoid of comment – Brian Vickers.
Since announcing he would have to step out of the car, Vickers has spent some time at the track, but has also been enjoying the perks of the Red Bull lifestyle. He spent time at the Formula 1 event in Montreal and recently visited a New York/New Jersey Red Bulls Major League Soccer game.
While he deserves time away from the shop and the track, perhaps Frye and the rest of the decision makers at Red Bull Racing would be smart to keep their star athlete around more going forward to help steer this team in the direction it needs to head.