NASCAR & Auto Racing

ARCA 'amateur' hours over, Cup debut now the focus for Speed

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky - Scott Speed is ready for the pain.

The former Formula One driver will make his NASCAR Sprint Cup debut this weekend in Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in Red Bull Racing's No. 84 Toyota knowing the cramped conditions will test his patience and his sanity.

"People go away from that track mad at at least a handful of people," Speed said. "We're going with the attitude that we're going to get abused, and we're going to let it slide."

Even if it's not in Speed's nature to let things go so easily.

The 25-year-old was on the cusp of an ARCA series championship last weekend in Toledo, needing a decent finish to wrap up the points title. Things were going smoothly until Ricky Stenhouse Jr., second to Speed in the season standings, repeatedly hit Speed in the rear fender as they ran near the front.

The banging eventually sent Speed into the wall, crippling his car. Speed pitted briefly and limped back onto the track. Rather than try to grind it out and win the title, Speed decided to get even, intentionally turning his car into Stenhouse's and totaling both cars, opening the door for Justin Allgaier to take the season crown.

Even so, Speed doesn't regret his decision.

"You can't fix stupid," Speed said. "(Stenhouse) obviously wanted the championship very badly. He was not going to win it like that. That's just ridiculous. I did my best to make sure he didn't win it. It's as simple as that."

Speed's nonchalance about the ARCA season title riled some, and he couldn't care less. While appreciative of the ARCA experience, Speed considered the series just a necessary step toward his ultimate goal - Cup racing.

"The ARCA Series helped me prepare for the trucks," Speed said. "But because (ARCA) is such an amateur series, the competition level and the equipment level is lower. ... "

In a way, the same goes for Cup racing, at least for now. Although Speed thinks he's made significant strides in ARCA and the trucks, he's only been in stock cars for a year. There are plenty of lessons still to be learned, and the adjustment period could get bumpy.

"It's like being a sketch artist and trying to paint on canvas," he said. "I'll never be as good at stock car racing as I was at open wheel. I still consider myself one of the best open-wheel drivers in the world. I doubt I'll ever beat Jimmie Johnson ... but I think I'm going to try and push him."

Pushing Johnson would be a step in the right direction for Red Bull Racing. Speed is taking over for A.J. Allmendinger, who parted ways with Red Bull last month after middling results this season. The No. 84 car enters Martinsville ranked 35th in Sprint Cup owner standings. Only the Top 35 are guaranteed a spot on the circuit next year, and Speed knows his job over next five races is to protect that ranking.

"I'm going to try as hard as I can to keep that thing in the top 35," he said. "There's a lot of stuff going on right now with the Chase and some guys that we don't need to get in the middle of."

Speed speaks with a breezy confidence when his future is the topic. Maybe it's because he's nearly assured of being the full-time driver in the No. 84 car next year. He wouldn't comment on his status for 2009. But he added he "will always be with Red Bull, and I think they're very happy with me. It's one of those things where it's going to be a long process, and we're going to take it slowly."

It might be the first time in his racing career that Speed has slowed down.

Though he admits he had an die-cast model of former NASCAR driver Ernie Irvan's car when he was a kid growing up in California, his first love was open-wheel racing. He got into go-carts before he reached middle school and eventually reached Formula One, which he still considers the pinnacle.

Yet he struggled in two years with Red Bull's Formula One program and returned to the United States last year when the sponsor steered him toward its NASCAR program.

"NASCAR is a much better form of racing," he said. "There's more interaction with fans. The business plan of NASCAR makes sense. In Formula One, there are a handful of people with a lot of money that can control it. It's very tough going."

The same could be said about NASCAR, where such superteams as Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and Hendrick Motorsports have become dominant. Still, Speed doesn't think it will take long for Red Bull Racing to join them.

"I forsee us, maybe not in '09 but in '10 being a very, very strong fighter for the title," he said.

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