Commentary

Speed just what NASCAR ordered

He ain't your daddy's NASCAR. But Sprint Cup rookie Scott Speed's live-life-on-the-edge attitude should keep things pretty interesting.

Updated: January 29, 2009, 3:42 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Scott Speed won't win the Sprint Cup championship this season. He may not win a race in 2009, and he has some tough competition in Joey Logano for Rookie of the Year honors.

[+] EnlargeScott Speed
AP Photo/Russ HamiltonScott Speed took a champagne shower after his Truck Series win at Dover in May 2008.

But Speed won't go unnoticed. This is NASCAR's new wild man, a live-life-on-the-edge dude who says what he thinks and does what he feels.

For those who say Cup drivers need to loosen up, here's your guy. And for those who say this ain't your daddy's NASCAR, here's your proof.

The driver of the No. 82 Red Bull Racing Team Camry fit right in while racing in Formula One, but he's one of a kind in NASCAR. He was a highlight on the media tour last week.

His greeting: "What's up, dog?"

On the fans here compared to Europe: "American fans are obnoxious. It's ridiculous to get a picture or an autograph. Everywhere else in the world there's just more respect."

On his home state of California: "Man, I hate that place. Where I grew up [Manteca, Calif.], there was nothing to do except go bowling. Then there's L.A., which is too fake for me."

On his new surroundings in NASCAR and North Carolina: "I may never fit in, but people here are much more friendly. Everybody gets along. It's cool."

On getting engaged in the offseason: "It was expensive, but not like my boy here [crew chief Jimmy Elledge] and his million-dollar divorce."

Elledge shakes his head at his spicy driver, but he likes what he sees, even defending Speed's infamous moment last year in the ARCA season finale.

Speed and Ricky Stenhouse went to the Toledo event battling for the title, but Stenhouse put Speed's car in the wall. Speed's team got the car back on the track, where he returned the favor on Stenhouse. Justin Allgaier went on to win the championship.

"Heck, give me that guy any day," Elledge said of Speed's bold ploy. "I want a guy who's going to fight for his team."

Speed has no apologies for the retaliation move. He firmly believes it was the right thing to do.

[+] EnlargeScott Speed
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonScott Speed, rear, will lean on Red Bull teammate Brian Vickers, right, often in 2009.

"But it was ridiculous what happened," Speed said. "I could not leave that race and have all my guys look at me like, 'Are you kidding? He took us out and we lost the championship to him?'

"No one would let that happen. I had a car that was completely destroyed, so the only thing I had left to do was make sure he didn't win. At least we had a cool story and made a little 'Days of Thunder' out of it."

Speed, who turned 26 last weekend, has no intention of repeating his takeout strategy in Cup this year.

"It's not like I won't take crap off anyone," Speed said. "I think I've been very respectful [in five Cup races to end last season] and taken a lot of crap on the track. It's my spot to do that."

Jay Frye, GM for the Red Bull Racing Team, said Jeff Gordon complimented Speed last year at Martinsville, Speed's first Cup race.

"Jeff walked up to me in the garage after the race," Fyre said. "He wanted to tell me how impressed he was with Scott. Jeff said he passed Scott and then noticed Scott followed him for a long time.

"If Jeff went high, Scott went high. If Jeff slowed down, Scott slowed down. He said he finally realized Scott was trying to learn by doing everything Jeff did."

Gordon would finish fourth, while Speed finished 30th, but Gordon wanted Frye to know his young driver showed some smarts.

Speed said he's prepared to take his lumps on the track this year.

"I'm a rookie and have a lot to learn," he said. "It would be stupid not to take it just because some guy cut me off or put me up high. I need to learn. But when I get good and I'm fighting for championships, it's going to be a different story."

Jimmy [Elledge] finally has a driver who's as crazy as he is. They're perfect for each other.

-- Brian Vickers

Elledge is convinced Speed can get there. Red Bull teammate Brian Vickers said Speed is the driver Elledge always needed.

"Jimmy finally has a driver who's as crazy as he is." Vickers said. "They're perfect for each other."

Elledge has worked with two other drivers who came to NASCAR from open wheel -- Casey Mears, who raced in CART, and Juan Pablo Montoya, who won a CART title and raced in Formula One.

But Elledge sees things in Speed that sets him apart from the others.

"Scott is very disciplined in the race car," Elledge said. "If we miss the setup, Scott won't push it. He won't overdrive the car. He'll go out there and race 20th and not risk it.

"But if we hit on it, he shoots to the top. He realizes he has a good car, and he goes for it. He goes from here [a waist-high hand gesture] to here [hand above his head]. That's why I know how good he can be."

Elledge also knows Speed can get a little wacky at times, but don't equate his zaniness to a lack of knowledge.

"Scott gets it," Elledge said. "He really understands data and the technical side of things and gives good feedback. He's able to process things faster than I expected. He's very passionate about what he does and very serious on the track, but he also keeps all of us loose."

That's a guarantee. Win or lose, Speed will keep things interesting.

"I'll probably never be as good as Jimmie Johnson," Speed said. "If I go in here and I can't make it, I'm still OK. It's the huge opportunity, man, to see if you have what it takes. That's what life's all about."

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Terry can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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