DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Scott Pruett is a racer who keeps making moves that appear ill-advised.
And if his latest -- a decision to shift from CART to NASCAR -- works out like the rest, the smile that comes so easily to his face might grow a little wider.
He signed on with Firestone tires when it decided to return to Champ Car racing. His testing helped develop the tires now so well established that Goodyear is gone from open-wheel racing.
Next, the 39-year-old Californian cast his lot with Toyota, the dog of racing engine manufacturers -- until he won its first-ever pole last year. Now, Toyota figures to challenge well-entrenched Honda for supremacy.
''I've always been the kind of guy that goes against the grain a little bit,'' he said as he began final preparations for his first Daytona 500.
And the grain is running against him once more. Now, he has to race Dale Jarrett, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and the rest of the greats on a circuit where he has yet to turn a lap.
So, is this another seemingly dumb move?
''It could have been with Toyota, and they said the same thing when I stepped into the Firestone program,'' he explained. ''A lot of people have questioned my moves.''
Car owner Cal Wells is not among them. But that's not so surprising. As Pruett's last boss in CART and first in NASCAR, he shares a propensity for betting on longshots.
''Racing is competition, and competition requires risk,'' said Wells, who on Sunday will field his first stock car. ''If you throw the ball in the end zone, somebody else might catch it. But if you don't throw it in there you'll never score a touchdown.''
He scored a few as a force in off-road racing, and his CART team appears set to reap the benefits of his patience with Toyota. Now, he'll try his luck against Robert Yates, Rick Hendrick and Jack Roush, the giants among Winston Cup car owners.
But Wells comes prepared, powered by Yates engines like the ones that gave series champion Jarrett and teammate Ricky Rudd the front row for Sunday's $9.3 million season-opener.
And Pruett already has proven he knows his way around Daytona International Speedway. With a fast time test backed up by a productive qualifying race, he'll start 15th in a field of 43.
''From nowhere to the front,'' he said of the Toyota progression, but could just as easily have been talking about his limited experience on the 2 1/2-mile track where he'd like to pull off an upset even greater than his stunning victory over NASCAR's best nine years ago in an IROC race.
Now, all he has to do is figure out how he did it.
''Yeah, I was surprised,'' he said. ''I didn't really know what I did, but it was right whatever it was.''
So, perhaps was the decision of the Wells to bring Pruett over with him when he formed his NASCAR team.
''Why Pruett?'' Wells asked rhetorically. ''He's won in everything he's raced with wheels on it.''
He smiles when asked if he thinks that will happen in NASCAR. It's not even a consideration at this moment. Making each of the 34 races, that's the goal.
So neither Wells nor Pruett is thinking about winning Sunday. They simply would like their latest role of the dice to yield a respectable finish.
And just how does Pruett, who left road racing championships a dozen years ago for the uncertainly of CART, expect to do that?
''Drive a smart race,'' he said. ''And don't make any bad moves.''
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