I first caught Scott Speed's act last January, when I was in Charlotte for NASCAR's annual preseason media tour. It was an evening Red Bull event, and Speed addressed the press from a comfy couch, wearing shades and a button-down shirt open to about mid-torso. The California native, who was coming off of a two-year stint on the F1 circuit (where he went winless in 28 starts), seemed very conscious of projecting a laid-back vibe, greeting the media with, "What up, dog?"
The 26-year-old Speed also went to great lengths to emphasize his continental-ness, saying, "American fans are obnoxious. It's ridiculous to get a picture or an autograph. Everywhere else in the world there's just more respect."
Speed got all the usual stories talking about what a free-spirit he was and how he won't mince words when talking to the press. He also got a fair amount of hype as a legitimate contender for Cup racing's rookie of the year title. I remember thinking that while all that might be true, his attitude might come back to bite him if he struggled.
Granted, he and Joey Logano were the only two rookies in the Cup series at that point, but the fact remains that Speed was supposedly a much better fit than A.J. Allmendinger, the driver he was replacing, with the edgy image of Red Bull. The move seemed a no-brainer at the time.
Not so fast. Logano has made a joke out of the ROY competition, ranking 21st in the Cup standings compared to Speed's 35th. Even Allmendinger is ahead of speed -- A.J., who races for Richard Petty Motorsports, ranks 29th, and has three top-10 finishes to Speed's one. It's pretty clear now that Red Bull traded down in making the switch.
That wouldn't be so bad, but in last week's Nationwide race at New Hampshire (where Logano would eventually earn Cup victory No. 1) Speed took on Cup teammate, and Red Bull top dog, Brian Vickers in an ugly late-race battle. (Note: the two are not teammates at the Nationwide level.)
On the final lap, Speed, then running sixth, got into the back of Vickers, who was fifth, and ran him into the wall. On the cool-down lap, Vickers tapped Speed's bumper several times, prompting the former F1 back-marker to brake-check Vickers, which led to more contact.
"I don't know what his problem is," said Vickers after the race. "I don't know if he's frustrated because he runs so bad in the Cup series, but he just flat ran into us and wrecked us. I've never had a teammate do that to me before...The only thing he could say was 'I couldn't slow down. You guys slowed down right in front of me.' No kidding. It's a turn. I've got to stop and turn left."
Some of Vickers' comments were heat-of-the-moment anger, but some were also him twisting the knife on his Cup teammate. Speed has bent his share of fenders now at three levels of stock-car racing (ARCA, Truck and Nationwide), and this last one might be the costliest of them all. I can't imagine that Red Bull is happy anymore with its free spirit.
1: The number of points separating the 12th-place driver in the Cup series (Juan Pablo Montoya) from the 13th (Kasey Kahne)
17: The number of points separating the 10th-place driver in the Cup series (Matt Kenseth) from the 14th (David Reutimann)
1: Number of victories at Daytona for Matt Kenseth, the only driver in positions 10 through 14 to have ever won at the track
So, am I the last Racing Fan on earth to learn that Tony Stewart, along with former girlfriend Krista Dwyer, once had a pet monkey? It seems that Smoke briefly owned a patas monkey (Erythrocebus patas) named Mojo, who now makes his home at the Louisville Zoo.
The native habitat for the Mojo would normally be on the savannahs of West Africa, and I get a kick out of thinking about him making due with the concrete flatlands of the typical NASCAR infield. Apparently, the Cup scene wore little Mojo out. The following is from the Louisville Zoo's press release on the matter:
"When Stewart and Dwyer noticed Mojo maturing and becoming aggressive, they sought help. They contacted the head of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) patas monkey Species Survival Plan who recommended the Louisville Zoo as a great fit for Mojo."
When I wrote about Stewart for the magazine earlier this year, I learned that one of his first connections with teammate Ryan Newman came about because of their mutual love of animals. Newman and his wife own several rescue dogs, and Stewart said he was still trying to convince the folks at Stewart-Haas Racing to let him have a "shop dog." (His choice: "A big old basset hound! How cool would that be?") Apparently, he and Newman aren't the only pet lovers on the Cup circuit.
I wouldn't be boring you with any of this, of course, if I hadn't recently stumbled upon one of the more unusual NASCAR photo galleries on the web. It's a slideshow devoted to the pets of NASCAR...and it is loooooong. I'm not even sure who all of these people are, or whose pets are whose, in every case. Nonetheless, it's interesting, and it isn't video footage of The Wreck of the Week (TWOTW). So, enjoy!
Happy Independence Day, everybody. I'll see you on the other side.