We asked Red Bull Toyota driver Scott Speed to give us the lowdown on his rookie season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup…
What was your highlight of the year?
The best thing that happened to me in the 2009 season was that I finished fifth at Talladega.
Speed found himself in a top-10 position with five laps to go in the Aaron’s 499 and then moved up more when Kyle Busch decided to give him a helping hand. When Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski tangled in the final corner, Speed avoided the accident that saw Edwards’ car flip and careen into the catch fence. His fifth place was the best finish in his short NASCAR Cup career.
Can you identify a watershed moment or turning point for you and your team this year?
The first Charlotte when we finished 18th and ran top-20 all day.
Speed’s May run to 18th in Charlotte may not have seemed to be a great result, but the No. 82 Red Bull Toyota driver didn’t get the chance to show his true stuff that day because the race was ended just past the halfway mark due to rain. With a great car that could run fast on the high line, low groove, and in between, Speed left Lowe’s Motor Speedway wondering what would have happened if the race had gone the full distance.
What were your best and worst races, and why do they stand out?
Best race was Texas at the end of the year because we didn’t even qualify for it at the beginning of the year and came back and ran top-20 all day in the fall. Worst races were the road courses. With my experience level on these, we should not have had issues, but we did.
In the third-from-last race of the year, Texas served as Speed’s confirmation that he was indeed learning things along his first Sprint Cup season. Although he finished a lap down, Speed overcame a poor-handling car early and improved to run as fast as the leaders by the end of the race. Road courses were a different story for the former Formula One driver, who didn’t qualify for June’s Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway in California and had to race another car. He finished 37th. At Watkins Glen in August, Speed struggled with set-up and finished 22nd. He fared better in the Nationwide race at The Glen, finishing 10th.
What was the craziest thing that happened to you personally on track, and what else made you simply saw “Wow”?
Craziest thing on track to me was when my mate Kyle [Busch] pushed us from 10th to fifth at Talladega in the spring. My ‘wow’ factor had to be Jimmie Johnson winning four championships in a row. That’s amazing.
'It is amazing to me how supportive everyone in the garage is of each other.'
Who is the unsung hero of your crew?
The unsung crew member of our team in Charlie Brock, the car chief, because throughout the entire year we never really had any mechanical failures and I think he served as a great leader for the team.
What was the biggest lesson learned in 2009?
Learning patience was my biggest lesson, by far. There are so many races throughout the year, and so many highs and lows, that it is very difficult to stay patient.
If you could do one race from 2009 all over again, which would it be?
One of the first two races where we didn’t finish would be the ones I would do over because that would have kept us in the top 35.
Speed was crashed out of just one race and had one of his very few mechanical failures in one other. He finished 96pts outside the top 35 in owner points; finishing within the top 35 would have delivered a guaranteed starting spot on the grid for the first five races of 2010. But the 36th place may not be a huge disappointment after all, with many predicting a couple of mergers over the off-season, taking a car or two out of the grid in front of Speed. With any luck, he will find himself with an assigned grid position for the first five races.
What surprised you most in NASCAR in 2009?
It is amazing to me how supportive everyone in the garage is of each other.
What do you miss most when you are away?
When I’m away from home, I miss my family and friends most of all.
Is there something that you'd like to do that you wish you had more time to pursue?
I wish I had more time to pursue golf and R/C [radio-controlled] cars.”
Speed’s 2009 season began on February 7 in the Daytona Shootout and ended on November 22 at Miami-Homestead Speedway. In between, there were only four instances where the Sprint Cup took a weekend off, plus the one race in Texas where Speed showed up to race but could not crack the field. The Cup’s 39 race starts in 43 weeks doesn’t leave much time for other pursuits, something Speed discovered when he had to postpone his honeymoon this year until a suitable break in the schedule allowed for a few days of newlywed time.
Keep up with the news as the forthcoming season approaches at www.redbullracingusa.com.