Scott Speed - Speed Freak

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"I've liked this a lot more than I thought I would," he adds. "I had said for so long that I would never race in NASCAR. It looked stupid, and I thought it was a bunch of rednecks. But now that I've done it, I've realized that the racing is so addicting. My biggest problem is that you can't be good at experience. And since the cars haven't really changed and there's so little engineering involved, the drivers' input is very, very important to the setup of the cars. But getting in the car and going fast?" He shrugs. "These cars pull maybe two g's in the corners, and an F1 car pulls four and a half. For me to feel the edge at two g's is simple."

Speed is stretched out on a white leather banquette in his pimped-out motorhome. As a longtime poster child for Red Bull, he's never had to toe a corporate line or make nice with the media. If anything, he's been encouraged to play the part of the rebel. And unlike other open-wheel racers who have tried to forge new careers in NASCAR, he's made no effort to recast himself as a good ol' boy. On the contrary, after winning his first Craftsman Truck race, he delighted the media by informing them that he'd recently gotten a pedicure - and had his toenails painted blue. In Kannapolis, North Carolina, Dale Earnhardt was no doubt spinning in his grave.

Being different is a plus when you're representing Red Bull, which employs extreme athletes as its primary marketing tool. But renegades rarely thrive in the insular and highly regimented world of NASCAR, where teams line up in formation for the playing of the national anthem and even the smallest PR infractions result in fines and points penalties. Consider the cautionary tale of Tim Richmond, the flamboyant longhair - and inspiration for the Tom Cruise character in Days of Thunder - who was treated like a pariah by the NASCAR establishment in his heyday and shunned after contracting AIDS.

"As good as Scott is - and he's very good - he's still got a lot to learn," says his ARCA crew chief Patrick Donahue, who crewed for Jeff Gordon during Gordon's Winston Cup glory years. "The other challenge he's going to face is making friends over there [in Cup]. Instead of being an oddity, he's going to have to tone it down. Whether people want to believe it or not, it's a clique - the owners, the crew chiefs, the drivers. They can make you, and they can break you. If he eats some humble pie or does his talking on the down low, he'll be fine. If not, Tony Stewart is going to put him into the wall."

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