One of the things that makes racing in the Craftsman Truck Series exciting is the combination of seasoned veterans and newcomers. Unlike the Nationwide Series, few Cup teams utilize the Truck Series as a developmental stage for drivers they plan to put in a car in the near future (Noted exceptions are Roush-Fenway and Bill Davis Racing). Cup Series racing, because of the length of the races and the need for patience, takes a different set of skills than Truck Series racing, where patience is the opposite of what it takes to win a race.
That being said, possibly the best story of driver development came to fruition Friday night, as Scott Speed won his first race in NASCAR in only six starts. He was the third driver in three races to win his first Craftsman Truck Series race.
Scott Speed's racing career began at the age of seven, when he raced go-carts. From there, however, his development has been very different from that of most NASCAR drivers. After winning the Red Bull Drivers' Challenge he found himself in a ride for the FIA's GP2 Series, a developmental series for Formula 1 drivers. Placing second in championship points to non other than Niko Rossburg, in that series earned him a ride with the Red Bull team's second-string subsidiary, Toro Rosso, in Formula 1. His best finish in that series was ninth, at Monaco. He was released from the team later in 2007, but Red Bull wasn't about to give up on him.
They made a sponsorship deal with Eddie Sharp's ARCA series team to get Speed a ride in that series. He ran a few unremarkable races at the end of 2007, but he was learning the stock car. Unlike others from the open wheel series, JP Montoya, Dario Franchitti, Patrick Carpentier, AJ Allendinger, and Sam Hornish, Jr., for example, he wasn't fast tracked and thrust into a Cup ride
with only a little experience in the heavier and harder to stop cars. Scott Speed is being methodically and carefully developed.
It is paying off. Speed is young enough, at age 24, to learn new tricks, and he is quickly learning what you can and can't do in NASCAR racing. Just last week, at Mansfield, he was involved in nearly every incident on the track. This week, driving once again for Bill Davis Racing, he avoided trouble and did what he needed to do to get to the front, something even the seasoned veterans have trouble doing in the Truck Series.
Red Bull plans to put Speed in a Cup ride near the end of this year, but only for the purpose of experience and training. Right now, Speed is concentrating on winning the ARCA championship, which would be quite a feat for a driver who previously had no interest in stock car racing.
In a post race interview, as reported by Motorsport.com, Speed talked about his development and his attitude:
"To be honest, whether we win or not, it doesn't really affect my confidence. I don't let results control how I feel about myself - - I have said it a thousand times. Today we had a good strategy and we had an awesome truck. We got everything we could out of it. If our truck was a fifth place truck and we did the race and finished fifth, I would be just as happy with myself. The hats off to the team, they're really the ones that won this race. I'm pretty confident that anyone in this truck at the last 50 laps after the pit stop would have done exactly the same thing. For me, I'm learning step by step -- it's going to be a long process and just to have the experience to know what to do on the trucks or on the cars when I go to the COT (Car of Tomorrow), you can't just learn it right away. It's something you have to feel and something you have to learn. The learning curve I've had has been amazing and I've learned a ton everywhere. Every time I go out onto the track for a race, I definitely come away feeling a lot of experience and knowledge. I'm certainly looking forward to continuing on and of course looking forward to my first Cup race, but I'm not in any rush. I'm having the time of my life just coming over here and trying to learn this sport. It's awesome and Red Bull is giving me an incredible opportunity to do this and my hats off to them. Without them, none of this would have been possible."
We can't say at this point that Scott Speed is the next big star, but it seems that everything is going right to reach that goal. Red Bull seems to be doing something right.