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Red Bull GM Jay Frye lays out the situation, and says he's "optimistic"

  Jay Frye (R) and Brian Vickers (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)


   By Mike Mulhern


   Jay Frye has been through this movie before, and if there's anyone in this sport who can hold things together and figure something out, it's this well-respected stock car racing general manager.
   In fact, when it comes to dealing with crises, Frye has been through the wringer so many times in his career that he may be the best at dealing with problems such as the one that this week finally exploded:
   Team Red Bull, the two-car NASCAR operation, now in its fifth season on the Sprint Cup tour, will undergo a shakeup at the end of the season-- or between now and the end of the season, depending how things play out -- because the team's owner-sponsor, the Austrian-based energy drink company, has decided to change its approach.

   Just what is behind the shakeup is unclear. But the way Red Bull has handled this whole NASCAR operation, since it signed on in NASCAR in 2007, has been rather unusual, in several ways:
   -- first, the sponsor is also the team owner, which would appear to be a rather expensive way to do business;
   -- second, the sponsor hasn't really marketed its NASCAR operation as strongly as one might expect, particularly for the money involved;
   -- third, the team opened for NASCAR business in a somewhat naive manner, it would appear, with European engineers running things and an untested driver (AJ Allmendinger) at the wheel of one car.
   The team struggled that first year, until Frye was brought in to reshape things in a more traditional manner.
   Still, the team hasn't had as much success as one might have thought. In part perhaps that was because Austrian team owner Dietrich Mateschitz insisted on having Formula 1 racer Scott Speed at the wheel of one of the cars. Speed, for all his flamboyance, never really quite got up to speed in NASCAR, and that tended to be a drag on the other team.
   This season, with Kasey Kahne at the wheel, and having good success, the team's sluggish performance over the years appears now to be in some clearer focus -- that there's nothing wrong with the equipment.
    There have been reports for months now that Mateschitz wanted to find someone else to own the team, so his company could become simply a sponsor.
    However, finding anyone with the funds and interest to buy a NASCAR Cup operation at the price point this sport has set is certainly a challenge.
    Frye says he's understood for a while that things could come to a head like this.
    Frye says the team is now "looking for outside investors" to take over ownership.
    And Frye says he's "enthusiastic about prospects. This process has just started, but we already have several prospects. Red Bull wants this team to continue.
   "So we're very encouraged about what's going on."
    Red Bull could indeed remain as a sponsor, or return later as a sponsor, Frye said.
    The whole situation comes to a head as Frye is in the process of both looking for a new driver to replace Kahne for 2012 and reviewing Brian Vickers' performance to see if he should get a new contract. Juan Pablo Montoya, Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards are three drivers figured to be under consideration for 2012.
    "We're very encouraged about  what could come next...but it is also somewhat sad," Frye said. "The number one goal (of Red Bull) is for the team to continue."
   Frye, on a rather optimistic note, said he hoped to get investors/ownership lined up in 30 to 45 days.
   One reason for optimism might be that Red Bull has invested a lot of money in this venture, and it might not look that good just to walk away, particularly with increased competition in the energy drink business. "It's a collaborative effort at this point to find the right partner," Frye says.
    Of course Red Bull is essentially now trying to sell the team, and typically in the sport owners trying to sell are lucky to get pennies on the dollar, no matter how good the equipment
   How that might play out is uncertain.
   And getting anything out of the Austrian owners over the past many years has been futile.
   "The good news is we have time to react; it's only June," Frye says.
    "Over the past few weeks we were alerted that this could be happening...and while we'd hoped that would change, it didn't, and now we have to react.
   "We've had opportunities the last few weeks to talk to people, and we optimistic we can put something together in the next 30 to 45 days, so we can have some resolution to this.
   "There is reason to be optimistic. We've been through this in the past."
   One reason to be optimistic is Frye's long-standing friendship with team owner Rick Hendrick. In fact there has been speculation, on and off, for some time, about a possible Red Bull sponsorship or business opportunity with Hendrick somehow.
   "You certainly lean on everyone you've dealt with in the past. And they've been very helpful this time with contacts."
   Of course Hendrick is one such man.
   "Yes, Rick has always been someone I've confided in, a great friend," Frye says.
   A potential partnership with Hendrick here?
   Frye demurred.
   Another reason to be optimistic -- Chevrolet. While Red Bull current is a Toyota team, Chevy and Frye go back a long ways.
   Yet another reason to be optimistic -- Red Bull is just a two-car team right now, and the NASCAR limit is four, "so we have room to expand," Frye said, in a selling point. "That is part of the value of this team."
    Among the potential drivers, might one be Mark Martin, who has driven for Frye in the past? After all Hendrick is looking for a spot for Martin in 2012..
   Frye says at the moment no. "Mark is a great friend, and I never say never, but at this point, no," Frye says.
   One aspect to that is Red Bull's general marketing push for males 18-34, and Martin being over 50.
   "The first thing to get sorted out is ownership," Frye says.
   "Nowadays, when you've got investors/owners/partners, a lot of time they're companies, or on board with companies.
   "Once we get the ownership/partnership piece sorted, then we can go to the driver situation and get that sorted out."
   Frye says the main point right now is "getting money to operate next year.
   "With Red Bull's assistance -- and they want to be a big help and keep the team going in the right direction -- they could help in acquiring that."
   Frye said there was still some possibility that Red Bull would be a sponsor on the car next season.
   Red Bull's Formula 1 team of course has finally become very successful. But Frye pointed out that NASCAR is much different from F1.
   "We're very confident we can get this team to a very competitive level over the next few years," Frye says.

     Red Bull: will it remain on the team's quarterpanels? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Looks like the Red Bull

Looks like the Red Bull "situation" is moving forward... "forward to what?" is the question...

I, for one, would rather that team stays in Toyota than go Bowtie...
...but since the head guy there now has not only NASCAR experience, but was with Hendrick... well... who knows??

Another "B" team exit

The gap between the haves and have-nots is just going to grow even wider now. The Big 4 teams and all of their resources will continue to keep the competition away, because no matter how much money they throw at their operations, teams like Red Bull and MWR aren't going to be able to compete consistantly with the megateams. Penske has had to scale back his operations, and MWR hasn't been heard from in a while. I'm not a fan of these energy drinks and the way they market them, but I do like sponsers like Red Bull that come into the sport with all of the flamboyance of a superstar. I hope stock car racing will continue to get more sponsors like Red Bull in its top ranks.
NASCAR still needs to examine it's testing policies again. The number tests needs to be based per team, and not per car. That will help the single and double car operations out somewhat against the megateams and their simulators. Nothing compares to the real thing. If the teams as a whole are on an equal basis as far as testing, maybe we'll see some single and two car teams be successful and hopefully sponsors like Red Bull will stay vested in them.
Mike, has NASCAR mentioned anything else about possible changes in the testing procedures? They had said in the offseason that they might open up the testing limit some, but I haven't seen any updates since then.

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