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Guess which NASCAR star has dyed his hair blue?

  Elvis is in the car: Just call Scott Speed Mr. Blue (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern
   BRISTOL, Tenn.
   Scott Speed. Such a perfect name for a racer...particularly a NASCAR driver.
   And now this transplanted Formula One racer -- from Northern California to Austria and now in North Carolina – finally appears to be coming into his own on the Sprint Cup tour.
   Friday morning, sporting new hair – dyed dark blue and black – the irrepressible Speed, and his sometimes zany persona, arrived at Bristol Motor Speedway celebrating an amazing run so far this season...that has him 12th in the standings, a spot that, if he and crew chief Jimmie Elledge can maintain, would put him in the championship chase.
   Scott Speed?
   Speed hasn't been around NASCAR that long; since the fall of 2008 at Martinsville. But he arrived with a splash, and very good sponsorship. The splash, though, was more for his style and personality – would outrageous be too strong a term? – than for his wheelmanship.
   However now Speed is showing signs of living up to his name and rep. Certainly teammate Brian Vickers hopes so.
   "There was a very big step in the last half of last year, after Brian made the chase," Speed says. "But we just had so many things go wrong...otherwise we'd have finished even better.
   "And we've stepped it up even more in the off-season.
   "Everything makes more sense, and we work better as a team, and I'm really proud of the progress we've made – especially like after the problems we had at Vegas and then fixing that for Atlanta.
   "It's just my seat time in the car, and having confidence in what I feel...and there is still more to go.
   "I feel I'm still a year out from being close to 100 percent of my potential here."

   But the hair?
    Yes, Speed is known for a considerable measure of the whimsical, like painting his toenails and wearing outrageous clothes.
    But blue hair?
   And what does new wife Amanda think about this?
   "I got on Twitter," Speed said, "and asked everyone 'What do you think about dying my hair black-and-blue? If I get enough yes's, I might do it.'
   "I got more responses from that than from anything I've ever posted. Everyone said I should do it.
   "I knew Amanda hated it; she didn't want me to do it. But I said 'Hey, look, babe, look at all the responses.'
    "That gave me the confidence to do it....even though it might cause me problems at home. Amanda still hates it. But I love it. So I presume there will be some more interesting conversations with Amanda....
    "I'm happy; it looks awesome to me."
    It's not the first time Speed has made a style statement.
   "I was just bored looking in the mirror," Speed said. "I've always done things with my hair. I had a Mohawk one time; I bleached it platinum-white one time.
    "But I'd gone about a year and a half – since I got married, really – and sort of lost the drive to do anything much."
     Using Twitter has become remarkably wide-spread among NASCAR drivers the past few months, and Speed seems to have the most fun with it.  "It's just entertaining...to be able to throw something out to a pretty large group of people and see the responses. It's a great instant-grading system, instant-feedback system."


  (L-R) Brian Vickers, Formula 1's Sebastian Vettel, and Scott Speed. (Photo:Getty Images for NASCAR)

  Just how to put Speed into perspective as a driver isn't easy. But if teammate Vickers is a gauge, then maybe things get clearer. Vickers made the championship chase last year, and that marked a turning point for the Jay Frye-led operation, a relatively new operation, with its first full season in 2007.
     Speed may play with his personality and change it up every now and then. But he's serious about his racing. And he finally seems to be clicking here. His first few months on the tour he appeared a bit lost. Now though he's clearly got confidence.
   "When we started running better last year, we got to where I can help both teams now, and help with the direction of the team, with more experience. Last year Brian was having to do a lot of things on his own, while I was figuring out the sport.
   "Now that I'm running better, he's gaining more respect for me, and I have more respect for him.
   "Atlanta and Fontana Brian and I both had great finishes. We're both feeding off each other right now. For a team as young as ours, that's great."
   Part of the game for Speed and Elledge this season is Elledge's penchant for gambling. "When Jimmie, at Daytona, said he was not going to pit, I tried to argue for a while, but then I just let him
   "All of those gambles Jimmie has made has paid off. And they're not really gambles; they are good, calculated decisions, educated decisions.
   "Jimmie has made some good calls all year. Especially at Fontana – we could have so easily have won that race."
   Speed's first season in NASCAR, he says, was a cautious learning period....which, given the notoriety newcomer Brad Keselowski is getting, may have been a good move. But then maybe Speed's sometimes awkward runs in pre-NASCAR ARCA played a role in that: in the final ARCA race in 2008 Speed was battling Ricky Stenhouse for the title, and the two crashed. And then they crashed again, and officials parked Speed for aggressive driving, costing him any shot at the title.
    "Certainly I've had my fair share of self-policing...like in ARCA," Speed said with a laugh. "I ended my championship run there....
   "In NASCAR you can go out there and be really rough and move people around....but over time that won't put you in the best position. And I think Brad Keselowski is learning that right now. There are 43 guys out there, and you can't make them all mad.
   "I went through my whole first year in Cup not burning any bridges, and there was a point to that -- not making any enemies.
    "Now maybe I am at the point where I can run better, and maybe if I need to make an aggressive move on the track that someone might not like, I have no enemies out there who have scores to settle."
   Maybe that's part Vickers' own personality rubbing off on him: "Brian is so easy to get along with. That guy could run for president. If you can't get along with Brian, you've got a problem. He's got a lot of friends out on the track."

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  Not your typical NASCAR driver...Scott Speed marches to his own drummer, and sometimes it's pretty off-beat (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)




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