The Frontstretch: Watkins Glen Continues International Flair At Nationwide Road Races by Kevin Rutherford -- Friday August 9, 2013

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In this week’s Going By the Numbers, we looked at Owen Kelly, the 36-year-old Australian set to make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut this weekend at Watkins Glen for Phoenix Racing. Kelly joins a field for which the usual roster of countries represented has risen from most weeks, as five different non-U.S. citizens — Kelly included — will run for NASCAR glory at the New York road course, rather than the usual two that compete full time in the series, Juan Pablo Montoya and Marcos Ambrose.

The Nationwide Series will have its fair share of foreign-born drivers the day before, too. When the green flag falls on Saturday, at least five different drivers — six if the two in the go-or-go-home category make the show — will mix it up in the American racing series, a far cry from the series’ one full-time competitor that’s from outside the country, Nelson Piquet Jr.

Nelson Piquet, Jr., usually the only international driver in Nationwide competition, will be joined by drivers for several other countries this weekend at Watkins Glen.

In all, the Brazilian Piquet will be joined by Canadians Derek White and Andrew Ranger, plus Frenchman Anthony Gandon in his series debut. With 41 cars on the entry list, at least Kenny Habul (Australia) or Dexter Stacey (Canada) — maybe both — will join them once the race is underway.

The allure of the foreign road racer is undeniable; if it didn’t exist, neither series would experience an influx (or, at least, a higher amount) of foreign-born competitors attempting to qualify. Road America earlier this year actually saw even more than the number that will be entered Saturday; last June, the aforementioned drivers (except Gandon) were also joined by Italy’s Max Papis and Australia’s Kelly, who will instead be running the Cup race.

Sometimes, the spike in non-Americans entering the Nationwide Series road races isn’t exactly unfounded; in previous years, the series traveled outside the United States boundaries to race in Montreal and Mexico City. In six years at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, which came to an end last season, the fields averaged 11 foreign-born drivers each race, many from the native Canada, with a high of 15 in 2007, the series’ inaugural race at the track. In four years at Mexico City, the series averaged the same amount: 11.

Still, even the continental road courses, which recently only included Watkins Glen in the Nationwide Series before the addition of Road America and now Mid-Ohio to the schedule, tend to feature a variety of Canadians, Australians, Mexicans and the like that come out for some NASCAR road racing. At Watkins Glen over the past decade, the lowest number of entries was a mere three in 2005, but generally wavers around five or six, with a high of nine in 2007.

It’s interesting to point out that it seems we can blame the infusion of non-American drivers in road course fields on the Nationwide Series’ move to Mexico City in 2005. Prior to then, the series didn’t even road race, having taken Watkins Glen off the schedule for a brief period between 2002 and 2004. Before then, Ron Fellows tended to be the only such driver to show up. He tended to win a lot, too.

That 2005 race at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez featured a score of different Mexican drivers (plus one Canadian — Fellows, naturally), some of which continued to return to the series to run other races, road courses or otherwise, like Jorge Goeters. Racing in Montreal introduced drivers like Ranger, J.R. Fitzpatrick and the occasional NASCAR appearance of Alex Tagliani.

Since the series visited those tracks, the integration has continued, with Derek White, Dexter Stacey, Antonio Perez, Alex Garcia and the Dumoulin brothers also among the racers who first entered NASCAR on one of the road courses — sometimes outside the United States — and have tended to stick around to varying degrees since.

Saturday’s race may or may not have a winner from outside the States among its ranks. Piquet, the full-timer in his Turner Scott equipment, stands to have the best chance at victory, having already won a Nationwide road race at Road America last season. The rest are running for smaller series organizations — or even their own part-time teams, as is the case of Habul.

Regardless of how they do, it’s still interesting to see an increased international presence still holding court at the occasional NASCAR race throughout the year, generally on the road courses. After NASCAR left Montreal last season, it was wondered whether or not the pathway was still open, though we probably shouldn’t fret — the Truck Series is making a trip above the border to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in less than a month, after all, and a few non-Americans are already announced to the entry list, including Papis and Canadians Alex Guenette and Martin Roy.

Quick Hits

-Keeping on the topic of foreign NASCAR drivers, Mid-Ohio will see an additional Swede traversing its corners when the Nationwide Series travels there next weekend. Alx Danielsson, a competitor in Sweden’s V8 Thundercar Series, will attempt to make his NASCAR debut, driving the No. 73 for Creation-Cope Racing. Danielsson, 32, will have to qualify into the race on speed, unless the starting field is not overbooked.

-R3 Motorsports got a powerful new ally this week in Tony Eury Sr. Eury, former NASCAR crew chief who’s known for his long relationship with the Earnhardts, won two series titles atop the pit box for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the late ’90s and was more recently the competition director for JR Motorsports before his firing nearly a year ago. He joins the part-time team, which fields the No. 23 for Robert Richardson Jr. in about half the season’s races while turning the number over to Rick Ware Racing in the other events.

Looking Ahead: Watkins Glen

Stats (Entered Drivers):

Most Wins: No entered drivers have won at Watkins Glen
Most Top Fives: Kyle Busch (4)
Most Top 10s: Kyle Busch (5)
Most Poles: Sam Hornish Jr. (1)

Entered Past Winners: None

Top Average Finish: Brad Keselowski (5.2, 4 races), Nelson Piquet Jr. (7.0, 1), Kyle Busch (9.3, 6), Kasey Kahne (10,0, 2), Brian Scott (12.3, 3)

Watkins Glen Nationwide Debuts: Anthony Gandon, Derek White, Kyle Larson, Joey Gase, Travis Pastrana, Kevin O’Connell, Parker Kligerman, Bryan Silas, Alex Bowman

Season Nationwide Debuts: Anthony Gandon

Nationwide Debuts: Anthony Gandon

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