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Scott Speed on why he chose NASCAR

by Tim Wohlford
Sunday, June 15, 2008

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Scott Speed winning at Dover in the truck race
AutoRacing1.com readers have followed Scott Speed from the time he won the Red Bull Driver Search in 2003, through his test drive with Red Bull Racing in 2005, into his struggles with Team Toro Rosso, and finally his mid-season dismissal in 2007.  For a while he was the great American F1 hope, fulfilling the dreams that were shattered with Michael Andretti's foiled attempt some 14 years earlier. 

In 2007, CCWS fans hoped that Scott would come to Champ Car to revitalize that series.  IRL fans hoped that Speed would want to do Indy, especially since the IRL was readjusting its track balance in favor of road courses.  Sadly, both sides knew that Speed's patron sponsor, Red Bull, was working to make its NASCAR team competitive, and a few expected that former CCWS driver A. J . Allmendinger would be replaced by Speed by the end of 2007.  Instead, what happened is that Speed went back to school, literally learning how to drive all over again.  AutoRacing1.com's Tim Wohlford caught up with Speed between races at Michigan International Speedway, and asked a few questions that are on the mind of most American open-wheel racing fans. 

AutoRacing1: When you came to NASCAR, you broke a lot of hearts.  Are you having any second thoughts?

Scott Speed
Speed:
  No, I had the opportunity over there to stay, but it wasn't with Red Bull, and it wasn't as a race driver.  And F1 testing is a pretty tough job.  My loyalties are with Red Bull as long as they'll have me, so, at that point, it's, 'So, what do you want to do, Scott?'  They said, well, this is a huge challenge, at my age, to go racing in something I already know β€” I know I can race open wheel cars, I know I can road race, for sure, it's not a challenge.  It's (NASCAR) something completely different, that's why we're going this way. 

NASCAR is entirely different, a point made a few haulers away this morning by rising star Clint Bowyer:  "They come out of a car that has 2,000 pounds of downforce, to a shoe box where you slide around all day for 500 miles... it's a big change, a big learning curve."  Aside from Tony Stewart, no open wheel driver has had much success in NASCAR in recent years.  As Robby Gordon pointed out when Sam Hornish ran the ARCA race at MIS, running well in ARCA is no big trick compared to the challenges of NASCAR's Cup division.  The conversation continued:

AutoRacing1:  Obviously, at some point, it's four wheels and a steering wheel, and it's a race car, and race car drivers drive them, but a knack to doing it.  Is it fair to say that you're not starting all over, but learning a different...

Speed:  (interrupting) It is staring all over.  It's completely different.  The racing style is totally different, and it's nice to have the opportunity to start something like this, over.

The interview took place behind the hauler for Bill Davis Racing's NASCAR truck team before lunch, and by that time Speed had run afoul of track (and NASCAR) security, run an ARCA race, and qualified for the afternoon truck race.  Speed started on the pole, led early, but he faded during long tire runs, finally finishing 4th.  The race was won by his teammate Justin Lofton, who is not under contract with any NASCAR team (although he hangs around the Ganassi shop).  In each run, Speed would run strong at the start, but fade badly as the tires wore. 

AutoRacing1:  What did you learn today?

Speed:  Uh, that our ARCA car was f&%@#*! shit.  I don't know, we had something strange happening with our ARCA race today.  I mean, we had the field covered by quite a lot, and it seemed that no matter what we changed in the car during the race we couldn't fix the problem that we had.  So, I don't have an answer yet, but we're going to have to figure out what happened there.  But, the truck stuff is going well, I get along with my guys really well, and we're making a lot of progress today. 

When AutoRacing1 talked with Alex Lloyd last winter, he commented that, β€œIn F1, it's easy to forget that you've got the best job in the world. In F1, you hate your teammate, you don't talk to anyone on another team, you can't trust anyone.”  AutoRacing1 quoted Lloyd, and then asked the big question... Are you happy here? 

Scott didn't hesitate a bit with his reply:  "Yeah, I'm very happy here.  I'm happier than I was, for sure.  I mean, it's a fun experience.  I try to take myself lightly, and try to learn, and I'm having a very good time doing it."

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