Speed's best results in the overmatched Toro Rosso F1 car were a pair of ninth-place finishes. But he was as quick as his teammate (the best barometer of performance), was briefly fastest during practice in the rain at Monaco, then made a lightning start at the Nürburgring, only to hydroplane off the track. This led to an ugly confrontation with excitable team principal Franz Tost, and co-owner Gerhard Berger - who was already unhappy with Speed - used the incident as a pretext for canning him.
Speed says he's proud of what he accomplished in F1, and he insists that he could have gotten another ride but declined because he was loyal to Red Bull. When Mateschitz asked him what he wanted to do next, NASCAR beckoned. "After Formula 1, what do you do?" Speed says. "To win in the IRL would have been meaningless to me. I'm doing this because it's something new, and I really want to challenge myself. This is the best form of motor racing in the world. They do it right. They get the most fans in the seats. They put on the best show. Everybody makes money - good money. And because the cars are so equal, the driver means a lot more. All of a sudden, I can control more of the puzzle."
Since Speed had no oval-track experience, Red Bull funded an ARCA program, the fourth rung on the stock-car ladder, with the top-tier Eddie Sharp Racing team. During his first tests, Speed repeatedly shattered track records. "He has more raw talent than anybody I've ever seen," Eddie Sharp says. He progressed so quickly that Red Bull put together a midseason Craftsman Truck deal with Bill Davis Racing.
"At Bristol, he'd never seen the place," says Slugger Labbe, the former Cup crew chief hired by Red Bull to serve as Speed's mentor. "He qualified on the pole and finished third. That's not supposed to happen. But for me, the high point of the season was Texas. He flew in [after qualifying], started dead last, and with ten laps to go, he was running fifth, learning the track during the race. I called Jay [Frye] and told him, 'This kid's got it.' "For Speed, however, Michigan was the track where he felt he'd arrived in NASCAR, although for an entirely different reason - pink graffiti saying "Scott Speed is gay." "If people are so passionate about you that they write bullshit about you in a bathroom stall, that's f---ing perfect," Speed says. "Keep talking. I think it's funny as hell."