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Speed's saga escalates Indy 500 drama, rumor mill to fever pitch

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Scott Speed in the cockpit of the #20 Fuzzy's Vodka Dallara for Dragon Racing. (Photo: IndyCar)
Scott Speed in the cockpit of the #20 Fuzzy's Vodka Dallara for Dragon Racing. (Photo: IndyCar)

Let's not mince words here. A wiggle at 220 miles per hour at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is nothing to scoff at.

Take that time you were on the ladder cleaning your gutters, and all of a sudden the ladder moved and you felt yourself careening backward, headed for a fall and (likely) serious injury. Only a last-ditch grab kept you upright, but for what seemed like hours afterward your heart was in your throat, your pulse was pumping in your ears, and you felt like a live electric current was being applied to your solar plexus.

Now, multiply that by a thousand, and that's what a wiggle at the Brickyard feels like.

Scott Speed's car was wiggling. Bottoming out and wiggling. And that was just at 220 miles per hour - eight miles an hour slower than the top speeds in practice.

In that context, the frustration that boiled over in Gasoline Alley this afternoon is entirely understandable. Still, what resulted from that frustration set the rumor mill buzzing that maybe Speed had had enough of the cars he once dismissed as not all that difficult to drive.

The deal pairing Scott Speed with Jay Penske's Dragon Racing came together so quickly that the former Formula 1 and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver barely had time to test an IndyCar before showing up for Rookie Orientation at IMS. After driving the most technologically-advanced open-wheeled cars in the world, perhaps Speed thought that IndyCars would be a fairly easy transition - indeed, three years ago, he publicly downplayed the skill required to drive an IndyCar to the annoyance of those who knew better.

Perhaps, too, the comments from his erstwhile NASCAR peers might have muddied his thinking. After all, several IndyCar drivers - including IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy - had tried their hands at driving stock cars, only to be quickly and decisively rebuffed, leading to dismissive comments about how easy IndyCars were to race. Stock car racing was harder - and if you could stick with stock cars, like Speed's fellow F1 alum Juan Pablo Montoya had, then maybe you had the Right Stuff in the driver department.

So Speed showed up in Indianapolis brimming with confidence - his usual state of mind to be sure, but perhaps with a little extra swagger because of what was on his curriculum vitae. However, it didn't take long for his confidence to be shaken.

His Dragon Racing car seemed to be all over the place on the track. He didn't feel confident enough in it to push as hard as he wanted to. His teammate, Chinese driver Ho-Pin Tung, was consistently 3 to 4 miles per hour faster per lap, so obviously he wasn't having the same issues. And as the practices wore on and he remained at the bottom of the speed charts, Speed's anger bubbled higher and higher.

Today, on Fast Friday, Speed watched as car after car pushed lap times higher than they had been all month long. With the draft, the top cars - the Penskes, the Ganassis, and Sam Schmidt's cars - were all flirting with 228mph speeds. Meanwhile, Speed had struggled to hit 222mph - clearly his best times of the month, but not even close to the 224mph average that most felt would be the Bump Day cutoff.

At the end of Fast Friday, the frustration finally boiled over, and witnesses reported that Speed engaged in a furious confrontation with his team as the clock wound down on practice. Soon, conflicting reports began to surface about whether or not Speed had quit Dragon Racing altogether.

Whether he had actually quit or not will probably only be known to the team and to Speed - and they certainly aren't talking about it at the moment - but after hurried meetings a somewhat mollified Speed spoke to SPEED cameras and said he would be back to qualify the #20 Fuzzy's Vodka Dallara, then took to Twitter to call the rumors of his resignation the work of "the tooth fairy."

As is Indianapolis custom, the "vultures" - out of work drivers with helmet bags and poured seats at the ready - had already gathered at the Dragon Racing garage, hoping for a sniff of some fresh carrion. For now, it seems as though they will go away hungry.

It's a wise move for Speed to attempt to qualify his racecar, because if he tries and fails he at least made the effort. Were he to quit and Dragon turned over the car to another driver, the chance that the replacement might fare better than he did would be a glaring embarrassment.

Perhaps the whole situation was overblown - both the rumor mill and Speed's own behavior. But this is, after all, the Indianapolis 500 - more importantly, the 100th anniversary of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing - and events that could approach a fever pitch at a normal race start at a fever pitch and only get more hypertensive as the pressure mounts.

In the murky aftermath of Speed and Dragon's sturm und drang on Fast Friday, the only thing that is clear is that the #20 IndyCar is not fast enough to make the race without a miracle. Will Scott Speed be the one looking for that miracle on Pole Day and Bump Day?

Whatever happens, it's just another day at the office at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the Month of May.