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Scott Speed grabs Red Bull by the horns

by Dave Grayson
Monday, December 13, 2010


Scott Speed
The fact that NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Scott Speed will not be returning to the Red Bull Racing, (RBR), #82 Toyota next year is no real surprise. Frankly, we've been expecting that announcement since last summer. But the driver's Wednesday morning announcement that said he was suing RBR did come as a surprise. What's even more surprising is the fact that the announcement of the potential suit came via "Twitter" so the driver could keep his followers up to speed.

In a "Tweet" sent on Wednesday, Speed wrote: "today should be the day my lawyer files this lawsuit against Red Bull. Had to tell my loyal "Twitter" followers before they saw it online." In a second "Tweet" from the same day he wrote: "sure not easy to find something, (a ride for next year), when u start looking in December, but we workin' on it. I'll keep ya posted, sure we will find something." He also indicated that he would entertain a serious offer from a NASCAR Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series team.

Also on the same day Speed made plenty of comments to the racing media and claimed that he was notified, via a November 24th fax, that he would not be in the Red Bull Racing ride in 2011. This was despite the fact that he has a contract with RBR that runs through the end of the 2011 season along with company options for the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

During the course of interview comments, Speed expressed disappointment over the fact his official dismissal was handled via a fax machine without so much as one telephone call from Austria, the official home of Red Bull Energy Drink. He also noted that Red Bull officials were on hand for the November 22nd NASCAR season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway but no one actually spoke to him.

He was later quoted as saying "I can't describe how upset I am just by the morality of it. I don't understand how you can treat people like this." Speed went on to say that he felt like he had been kicked to the curb without an offer to pay him anything at all adding "they were, okay, we're done with you. Thank you for seven and one half years."

Speed declined to elaborate on the terms of his contract with RBR or the details of the pending litigation. However, last Friday, the details did go public on the Internet via public records from the North Carolina Superior Court, located in Statesville, where the suit was filed on Speed's behalf. According to those records the driver is seeking $6.5 million in damages. The suit listed the following grievances:

RBR failed to provide his #82 Toyota team with the proper funding needed to compete at the NASCAR Sprint Cup level.

Speed's original agreement with RBR was for three years and was signed in September of 2007. His salary tier levels were set at $300,000 for the 2008 season, $500,000 for 2009 and $1 million during the 2010 season. Speed's contract also had a clause that guaranteed him bonus payments from the team that included 50% of the prize money from a race for every top ten finish, 45% for finishes between positions 11 through 20 and 40% for any finish 21st or worse.

The lawsuit also states that, in June of 2008, Speed's contract was amended to include the 2011 season at a seasonal salary of $1.5 million. That same amendment also granted RBR the right to pick up contract options on the driver for the 2012 and 2013 seasons with salary raises of $500,000 per year.

The lawsuit also states that in January of this year RBR revised Speed's contract cutting his 2010 salary from $1 million to $500,000

Despite that cost cutting move, RBR picked up the driver options through the 2013 season, in May of this year, only to officially release him last November 23d.

The lawsuit further stipulates that the $6.5 million represents money Speed would have earned from the 2011 through the 2013 plus the $500,000 in salary lost form this year.

Speed also said that the potential award from the lawsuit was also compensation for the likelihood that he will be idle during the upcoming 2011 season also noting that the possibility of signing with another NASCAR team this late in the year is unlikely.

Understandably, RBR has issued no formal comment on the pending lawsuit.

But the timeline associated with this driver's dismissal, based on previously published reports and statements from RBR officials, clearly indicates that Speed must have had some idea that his tenure with the team was going to end.

In July of this year RBR General Manager Jay Frye said that Speed's future with the organization would be decided within the next month adding "we need to perform, we need to be better."

That naturally raises the question: why did RBR wait so long to officially let the driver know he would not be returning to the team next season?

The answer to that question involves two other Sprint Cup drivers, Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne, along with the unusual circumstances that were associated with them.

In early spring Brian Vickers left the RBR #83 Toyota team due to a reported serious illness. The medical malady was later reported to be blood clots which eventually led to open heart surgery this past August. Thankfully Vicker's medical condition, during the second half of this year, showed a marked improvement to the point where he no longer was required to take blood thinners. He's not primed and ready to resume racing next year for RBR

Meanwhile Kasey Kahne announced his plans to leave Richard Petty Motorsports to sign with Hendrick Motorsports to drive their #5 Chevrolet. But that ride, contractually occupied by Mark Martin, wasn't going to be available until the start of the 2012 season. Team owner Rick Hendrick eventually made a deal with RBR to place Kahne in one of their cars next year.

In late October, General Manager Jay Frye said that RBR's 2011 plans included fielding two cars for Vickers and Kahne. With Vickers returning to good health, RBR announced that Scott Speed would not be returning and was free to negotiate with other teams.

When asked about the fact that Speed had a contract through the 2011 season, plus options, Frye pointed out that his contract also had a performance clause that relieved RBR from financial responsibility past the 2010 season if he doesn't finish in the top 16 of the Sprint Cup driver's standings. He, in fact, finished 30th this year.

Scott Speed's numbers, as a RBR development driver, started strong in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2008. He made 16 starts in the series while compiling one win, four top five finishes, nine top tens along with an average finish ratio of 13. During the 2009 season he moonlighted in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, in addition to his Sprint Cup schedule, where he scored eight top ten finishes with an average finish of 14.3.

But somehow his Sprint Cup numbers never materialized to the level RBR was hoping for. Many observers felt Speed should have spent an additional year in NASCAR's truck and Nationwide series before moving to the top level. From 2008 to 2010 Speed had 76 official Sprint Cup starts. He only netted one top five finish, three top tens and had an average finish ratio of 27.2. In these modern times those type of numbers often forces team management to consider making a change.

Following the progress of this lawsuit is going to be rather interesting. It's certainly true that the timing of his dismissal has made it virtually impossible for Speed to find a quality ride in any one of NASCAR's series for next year. His belief that RBR did not properly provide the funding for his team to be competitive is also rather eye opening. But the real point of contention here could turn out to be his contract for 2011, plus the subsequent two year option, versus RBR's claim that the contract has a performance clause.

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