There is drama unfolding at Red Bull Racing and the cast of characters is now set. Three drivers, including Brian Vickers, Kasey Kahne and Scott Speed, are all starring in the Red Bull shuffle that is potentially set to take place.
The drama began this season when Brian Vickers, driver of the Red Bull No. 83, was struck by blood clots in his lungs, leg and finger. Vickers was sidelined out of the car and off the track due to the blood thinners regimen required to treat his condition.
This past weekend in Bristol, Brian Vickers was back at the race track, sharing some startling news. The doctors finally determined the source of his blood clots, a combination of a hole in his heart between his right and left atrium and a rare condition called May-Turner Syndrome.
Vickers decided to tackle both of these issues head on in order to address once and for all the causes for his blood clots. He had heart surgery on July 12th to repair the hole and also had a stent put in a vein in his leg to address any further clots and prevent the risk of a stroke.
"I would rather die than have a stroke," Vickers said. "I don't want to run the risk of living like a vegetable."
Vickers told the NASCAR media corps at Bristol Motor Speedway that he felt great now, even going for a hike and bike ride shortly after the surgery. He has been pursuing other interests as well, taking advantage of the time away from the track to discover his other passions, from hanging with friends to playing golf.
If this revelation was not dramatic enough, Vickers confirmed that he has every intention of returning to his Red Bull ride for the 2011 season. In fact, he intends to be fully off the blood thinner treatment required for the clots and ready to race in the Daytona 500 in February 2011.
"The doctors gave me full clearance for next year," Vickers said. "I will be back in January. I'm real excited about that. They feel I'm probably in the best shape of my life."
This is where the plot thickens in the Red Bull drama. The team has just two race cars, the No. 83 to which Vickers intends to return and the No. 82 currently driven by Scott Speed.
Speed, the second player in the Red Bull drama, is admittedly struggling this season. While he has practiced and qualified well for the past several races, luck has not been with him and he has not had the finishes to show for it.
Speed's dilemma was evident this weekend at the Bristol Motor Speedway. He was 9th in the first practice at the short track and he ran 13th in Happy Hour.
Yet Speed could not back up his practice time in qualifying, starting the Irwin Tools Night Race in 23rd. Bad luck bit him again when a tire issue sent him into the wall, again experiencing a miserable finish in the 33rd position.
As a result of his struggles, Speed is currently 27th in the point standings in the Cup Series. He has never been in contention for the Chase since coming to race at NASCAR's highest level.
Sources say that Speed's future at Red Bull may be in jeopardy due to his poor performance this year. In fact, the speculation is that although Speed has another year on his contract with Red Bull, he may lose his ride as his contract has a clause that he rank higher than 16th in order to continue for the 2011 season with the team.
The third player in the Red Bull drama is unexpectedly Kasey Kahne, currently driving for Richard Petty Motorsports and future driver in 2012 for Hendrick Motorsports. Kahne's future ride in 2011, however, was up for grabs as the Hendrick stable was full for the upcoming year with its four current drivers, Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
Rick Hendrick, owner and principal with Hendrick Motorsports, has been searching for a temporary, one year ride for Kahne, who will eventually take Mark Martin's ride in the No. 5 HMS Chevrolet. Hendrick finally settled on Red Bull Racing, who agreed to take Kahne for next year's season and then release him back to Mr. H. in 2012.
"Red Bull is a top-flight team with a sponsor that is OK with a one-year deal," Hendrick said. "The sponsorship saying they are going to be with the guy for a year is a plus."
Red Bull Racing general manager Jay Frye said at the time of the Kahne announcement that he would either drive the No. 83 if Vickers was unable to return, replace Speed in the No. 82 car, or that he would consider adding a third car to the team.
"We are very optimistic about his (Brian Vicker's) return," Frye said. "But there's still a ways to go in this process. We continue to monitor his situation."
While Frye is monitoring Vicker's progress with his health, he said that he is also monitoring Speed's performance. Ironically, the only driver in the Red Bull drama that seems to be locked into place is the newcomer Kahne, with uncertainty facing both Vickers and Speed, the two Red Bull regulars.
Vickers continues to express full and utmost confidence in his return to Red Bull Racing in 2011. He also affirms his commitment and passion for racing at NASCAR's elite level.
"I feel like I've gained some edge," Vickers said. "This has given me an opportunity to step back and take a look inwards. Sometimes you don't find out how much you really love something until you don't have it."
Speed also seems to be rooting for teammate Vickers to return to the Red Bull fold. "He has gone through a lot," Speed said. "He has handled everything he was dealt very well."
Vickers, however, seems to be hedging his bets about his other teammate, acknowledging the support of his current teammate Speed, while also affirming his excitement to work with Kahne. Vickers also stated that he has no idea how the 2011 Red Bull team will all shake out.
"As far as Kasey (Kahne), I'm excited to work with him," Vickers said. "As far as how all that goes down, I know what you know. Jay (Frye) told me something was going to happen but he didn't tell me what."
"That's really a question for Red Bull and Jay Frye," Vickers said. "I have no idea. But I'm going to be in the 83 and I'm really excited about it."
So, the Red Bull drama and the speculation continues. Only time will tell just who among the three drivers, Vickers, Speed and Kahne, will be behind the wheels of the Red Bull Racing cars in 2011.