October 8, 2008 | 4:50 P.M. EST
With the success Speed has enjoyed since debuting in stock cars late last year, it’s doubtful he regrets much, if anything, in his racing career.
The sometimes-brash 25-year-old knows that everything you do in life gets you where you are.
After beginning his career in open-wheel racing, making it to Europe’s pinnacle circuit, Formula 1, and enduring a rough couple of years, Speed settled in the ARCA RE/MAX Series. A winner of four races this year, Speed sits atop the RE/MAX Series standings and heads into the season finale in Toledo, Ohio, as the favorite to win the championship.
This weekend, his journey also takes him to Lowe’s Motor Speedway for an attempt at his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the No. 82 Red Bull Toyota, but it won’t be his first foray into the NASCAR world. He’s made 11 starts in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, winning at Dover International Speedway in May.
“Four or five years ago, when I had a big ego, it might have been a problem for me to start in the ARCA RE/MAX Series,” Speed said.
“I’ve learned that I don’t need to bring my ego with me, regardless of the direction I choose to take.
“I’m quite comfortable with who I am and very satisfied with my ability to drive race cars, regardless of which division or league we are talking about,” Speed said.
“This will offer new challenges and a learning curve. It doesn’t matter how I finish. The only thing that matters here is that I learn.”
That learning curve continues this weekend in Charlotte and Toledo, because he’s attempting to make his Sprint Cup Series debut Saturday night and ARCA RE/MAX Series finale Sunday. To make that happen, he has to qualify his No. 82 Red Bull Toyota on speed in Charlotte.
In September, Speed tested the car at Lowe’s Motor Speedway for the team and performed well. During each of the nighttime test sessions, Speed rolled second on the charts with nearly every Sprint Cup Series team in attendance. Those results certainly do nothing to diminish his trademark confidence.
“After the test we had, I think we have a really good chance of qualifying very well,” Speed said.
“We were very quick on our own. I’m really looking forward to getting out there and racing. I’m sure I’m going to learn a lot by the end of the race.”
Speed made his NASCAR debut in the Craftsman Truck Series with Morgan-Dollar Motorsports’ No. 46 Chevrolet in March at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He finished 27th in a 32-truck field, three laps down to the leaders, and he absorbed the experience like a dry sponge.
Three weeks later, he finished 10th at Martinsville Speedway in his final run in for the Chevrolet team.
Bill Davis Racing found room for him and sponsor Red Bull in its Toyota stable for the Craftsman Truck Series’ fifth race of the season at Kansas Speedway. Speed finished eighth as a teammate to Mike Skinner and Johnny Benson.
A transmission failure slowed him at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in May, resulting in a 33rd-place finish, but he climbed back into the top 15 a week later at Mansfield Motorsports Speedway before everything came together at Dover International Speedway.
Speed led 51 of 200 laps at the Monster Mile on his way to beating Craftsman Truck Series veteran Jack Sprague by more than three seconds. Taking the checkered flag ahead of a NASCAR veteran certainly turned some heads, but his Red Bull Racing teammate, Brian Vickers, said Speed would be wise to heed his own creed about learning in his debut this weekend.
“Your rookie year, there are going to be times when you’re going to go really good just because you don’t know any better. Sometimes, that’s a positive, not knowing the dangers ahead,” Vickers said.
“The most important thing is to proceed with caution and patience and try to build respect within the garage. That will go a long way. Just going out there and driving with your head and not causing problems and wrecks — that’s going to earn a lot of respect.”