13 May 2011
Is Speed just filling time with Indy?
Since Dragon announced they'd signed up Scott Speed for the Indy 500, the question on everyone's lips is: is Speed serious about IndyCar, or just treading water waiting for NASCAR to call?
"I want to stay in NASCAR," says Scott Speed, bluntly. "I want to keep pushing because I think I have a lot to prove there."
So what's the Californian doing in Indianapolis, getting reacquainted with open wheel cars again reminiscent of the F1 cars he drove back in 2007 for Toro Rosso? He's never even seen the Indy 500 race live in person before, let alone seriously contemplated entering it.
"It's one of those things where beggars can't be choosers and if an amazing opportunity comes along with IndyCar I'd be silly to turn that down," he explains - but even so, that "amazing opportunity" took some arm-twisting by Jay Penske to get Speed to sign up for the Indianapolis 500, the race dubbed "The Greatest Spectacle in the World."
"Well, I got a text like about a week ago I guess, asking if I was available to run the Indy 500. And at the time I had a conflict on qualifying weekend with the Iowa Nationwide Series race," Speed continues. "The next morning Jay called me and basically assured me that the equipment they have is top‑notch and that they have got a real solid program.
"He did a good job of selling me on it and how it was going to be a solid effort into it," Speed adds. "The one thing I did not want to do all year was get into something mediocre, and was this the first thing that came along. That's why I was out of a seat for most of the year ... But it's one of those things where if it wasn't such a good opportunity, I wasn't interested in doing it."
Speed still took some convincing before he agreed to call Kevin Harvick, for whose Nationwide Series team he had been due to drive at Iowa on Indy qualifying weekend. Speed's instincts were clearly to stay loyal to Harvick in the hope that the relationship with the Sprint Cup star would lead to more opportunities in NASCAR.
"I basically called Kevin Harvick and, you know, explained to him the opportunity that I had and I needed to make sure that it was going to be no problem with his sponsors and the stuff he has going on on the Nationwide Series side that I had already committed to," says Speed. "He was basically able to replace me, and me leaving that program wasn't going to cause him too much pain."
Speed's sense of unfinished business in NASCAR partly stems from how he was let go by the Red Bull team at the end of 2010. Speed had a long association with the drinks company, and was the product of their driver development programme that led to his F1 seat, but the relationship has ultimately ended in acrimony and with Speed filing a $6.5m lawsuit because of how the late decision had made it impossible for him to find a team for 2011. "It was one of those things where you start looking for rides in December, it's difficult to land anything good for a full‑time or even for part‑time races," he says.
It was even more aggravating to him because "I really [felt that I had] finally found my footing," Speed says about his last year in NASCAR. "It took me a couple years and it's a tough learning process. I don't want to just give up now. It just seems silly. I want to bide my time."
But with his total 2011 motor sports commitments reduced to only three Nationwide events (the now-cancelled Iowa on May 20, and Iowa a second time along with Montreal in August), the chance to run in Indianapolis was hard to refuse - especially as the offer from Penske's Dragon Racing also covered the Vegas world championship and its huge $5m prize fund for any non-IndyCar series regular who can win the race. That sort of money could make a huge difference in terms of funding a 2012 drive in any series Speed wants.
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