Toni Montgomery · Wednesday February 23, 2005
Welcome to the first Busch Series edition of 2005! Somehow I have this thing timed all wrong. Well, not somehow. I haven’t completely snapped out of my off season doldrums and didn’t check the schedule. I’m now wishing I’d started with the Busch Series last week for a number of reasons. The ending of last week’s Craftsman Truck Series Florida Dodge Dealers 250 certainly bears some comment but that’ll have to wait for another day. And thanks to my poor scheduling, the commentary I had planned leading into the Mexico trip for the Busch boys ends up a week early. I feel like I showed up in Daytona with my superspeedway car half built.
Let’s plow on anyway. I do first want to give a big wow to Tony Stewart. Anyone who reads here knows I’m not overly keen on the Buschwhackers constantly invading the Busch Series and stealing all the top prizes. I also have to admit Stewart’s presence in the Hershey’s Take 5 300 made it something to see. Seeing Stewart mowing the lawn and then returning to the track only a few spots behind where he left it made a forgettable race memorable. As if that wasn’t enough to impress us, Stewart made an amazing run through the field from 17th in the closing laps to take the win. Shades of Dale Earnhardt at his best folks.
I could have used a few less airings of the Take 5 commercial though. I know Hershey’s was the title sponsor and they are pushing a new product but at every break? Thank you, I now know the Take 5 song forwards and backwards. Take 5, one more than four, Take 5…
Another thing that happened in Daytona was that Mexican driver Michel Jourdain Jr. ran his first NASCAR race and finished a respectable 25th on the lead lap. Jourdain even took a complete car home with him. You have to understand that Jourdain had never even driven a stock car until late last fall. Starting your first race at Daytona is really getting thrown to the lions. Time and again rookie drivers come out and say they just want to finish the race and end up doing so on the hook. Kudos to Jourdain for surviving.
You may not be familiar with him but I’m here to help you with that. I will watch almost anything on tires race (and sometimes things on the hoof too) so I’ve been watching Jourdain in the series formerly known as CART for years. I have to admit I never had an inkling that he wanted to race in NASCAR. Jourdain is still young enough to make a go at it which might sound strange considering I just said I’d been watching him race open wheelers for years. NASCAR is not the only series where they start young. Jourdain was a Kyle Busch sort, only he had to toil away in lesser rides for years before finally using sponsor pull to get himself in one of Bobby Rahal’s empty seats. That’s when he started winning races.
It’s no secret NASCAR has been trying to get some of the Mexican racing stars to run in the Busch Series race there. Along with offering a handful of Nextel Cup stars by running on an off Cup weekend, it hedges their bets about what type of crowd they will attract to have star drivers the local population will know and come out to see. It made the perfect opportunity for Jourdain who not only wanted to run that one race but make the jump and compete full time. With Ford’s help (everyone in Champ Car drives a Ford, but Jourdain did even before that) he not only got his foot in the door, he swung it wide open and walked right in to the top Ford team in the Busch Series, ppc Racing. He also gets an experienced teammate in Kenny Wallace to help show him the ropes.
Jourdain was not the only Mexican racing star in Daytona. Adrian Fernandez, the tops among Mexican racers as far as fans go, was also in attendance, keeping an eye on his upcoming ride, the No. 5 Chevrolet from Hendrick Motorsports. I expected Jourdain might like to run that one race although I did not expect him to go “totally NASCAR.” I really didn’t expect to see Fernandez with a roof over his head. And I really, really didn’t expect he’d be so excited and enthusiastic about it that he’d be hanging around his car two races before it would be his car.
So how do things stand for the first NASCAR foray into Mexico? There’s been good interest from Cup drivers wanting to run the race. Rusty Wallace grabbed his own Busch car for the event, prompting regular part-time driver Jamie McMurray to have to go to his Cup team owner Chip Ganassi to get a ride. There’s been plenty of interest from Mexican drivers as most of the biggest south of the border stars have been able to find seats. That all means that there will be a lot of drivers on track who have never raced together before. On a road course. It could be interesting.
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