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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2008 Corona Mexico 200 at Mexico City

The Key Moment: Scott Pruett got beaten, banged, intimidated and finally passed with eight laps left – becoming the latest victim of Kyle Busch‘s Nationwide Series domination.

In a Nutshell: Kyle Busch wins again… hurrah? It was a short track slugfest on a road course venue, complete with all the problems that continue to plague this series in 2008.

Dramatic Moment: Waiting to see when Busch was going to lay the bumper on Pruett was pretty exciting stuff; but a close second was Boris Said nearly throwing the hammer down on Marcos Ambrose after the two tangled with 34 laps to go.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

Mexico City, no hablo espanol. As seen from the eyes of this American, all I can tell you is this area is a pretty stark contrast from Montreal. Let’s put it this way; those nice little in-bumps and Spanish translations you saw from your TV set hid the mountain of graffiti, traffic jams and polluted smell that’s so much of the real heart of this city. The hotels everyone stays at are nice here; but trust me, there’s not a whole lot else positive to say other than that. After the TV trucks lost power due to issues outside their control, several drivers and crew got sick on the food, and the wall caved in not once, but twice during the day on Sunday, most people couldn’t wait to leave the country, no matter what your racing reason was for being here. Rumor has it Autodromos Hermanos Rodriguez is going to get a fifth straight season of this type of racing; if I were NASCAR, I’d take my five fingers and wave them up and down slowly, signaling the international term for “goodbye.”

What is it about stepping out of the country that turns the Nationwide Series into the WWE? Last August’s race at Montreal featured a fascinating finish in which Ambrose spun out Robby Gordon, only for Gordon to illegally move back to second place under caution and spin out Ambrose on the restart – the knockout punch in what had been a series of late-race incidents. Sunday in Mexico packed in some of the same heavyweight fighting, with about half a dozen wrecks in need of attention when all was said and done. Ironically, Ambrose was again at the forefront of it all, bulldozing his way through Said to the point the laid-back Californian actually lost his cool.

Speaking of which… when’s the last time we’ve ever seen Said lose his cool? This is a guy who went from the pole to missing the field at Daytona due to some crappy rules not too long ago, and even then he didn’t show any outward frustration; but after getting taken out by the No. 59, Said looked like he’d take out Ambrose’s face when he had the chance. Said spoke this weekend about skipping the Cup race at Talladega to spend cash running the three road-course events in the Nationwide Series instead; all that means for Ambrose is that he better watch his back come Montreal in August.

Was it just me, or did Pruett seem to freak out a bit once the No. 20 was in his rearview mirror? Vocalizing you’re going to lose is the nail in the coffin when you’re dealing with a guy like Busch; either Pruett still hasn’t gotten over what Juan Pablo Montoya did to him last year, or Busch’s reputation is beginning to pay Intimidator-like dividends. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone get as genuinely freakout with someone in their rearview mirror since Dale Earnhardt Sr. was among us. And with three straight wins, you’ve got to be impressed by the way Busch is performing across the board in NASCAR’s top-three series.

So much for NASCAR diversity. While Danica Patrick was busy winning over fans’ hearts with a heart-pounding fuel-mileage victory in the Japan IRL race, not a single Mexican driver finished in the top 10. Sure, a few had their chances; Antonio Perez, Adrian Fernandez and Ruben Pardo were among those who had some really nice runs. But in the end, when casual fans open the results page on Monday they’ll see no women in the field and no Latino drivers in the top 10 from this race; that’s going to be all that matters after Montoya spurned the opportunity to come back down and defend last year’s win on his “home” turf.

BOWLES: 2 COUNTRIES, 2 RACES, 2 DIFFERENT DIVERSITY OUTCOMES

Seriously, how long does it take to clean up oil? The red flag for Michel Jourdain Jr.‘s wreck – in which the No. 32 dumped fluid on the track – was as comical as it was perplexing. 18 minutes for oil… on a road course? Really? Next thing you know, a fan is going to blow a hot-dog wrapper on the track and we’re going to stop the race 20 minutes just to find the thing and throw it away.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

19-year-old polesitter Colin Braun ran well early, but slowly fell back through the pack before watching his day deflate as fast as his left-front tire; he finished 33rd, three laps off the pace.

Fernandez started the race at the back after having David Green qualify his car; he was making a determined charge through the field, flirting with the top 10 and looking like a car that could win until Sam Hornish Jr. made another one of those “learning mistakes.”

Kyle Krisiloff was enjoying a possible top-10 performance until he was hit from behind; when no caution flew, he dropped to a 29th-place finish.

Mexican Perez was running in the top five until mechanical problems caused him to stop on the racetrack, nearly triggering a multi-car wreck in the process; he finished 34th.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Carl Edwards‘s fuel strategy left him pitting on his own during a late caution, dropping him from a top-five run to 26th place. But not only did Cousin Carl march through the field on fresh rubber, he nearly pulled off a win before settling for fourth. Not only that, but he got to go on a tour of the Mexican ruins and get kicked out of an Office Depot… now that’s how you tackle Mexico City.

David Reutimann had an embarrassing wreck in Friday’s practice that destroyed his primary car, then got himself involved in an early crash on Sunday. But by the time things were all said and done, he had clawed his way back to an acceptable 11th-place finish.

Patrick Carpentier‘s car overheated in the closing laps, but he was able to hang on and come home fifth in his No. 9 Evernham Dodge; it was the highest finish for a rookie in the event.

Worth Noting

  • This was Busch’s third straight Nationwide Series win, and his first on a road course in any of NASCAR’s top-three series. Busch has now led laps in eight of nine races this season and has finished no lower than second in the five events where he hasn’t crashed.
  • Ambrose (second) has the best finish of his Nationwide Series career.
  • Pruett (third) also had the best finish of his Nationwide Series career. Both of his career top fives in the series have come at Mexico City.
  • Steve Wallace (10th) had his first career top-10 finish.
  • Mike Bliss (ninth) has two top-10 finishes in three races since switching to the No. 1 Chevrolet owned by James Finch. At the same time, his old team (the No. 22) has an average finish of 22nd.
  • Parity was in full force at Mexico; the top-10 finishers were five Chevrolets, two Dodges, two Fords and the winning Toyota of Busch.

What’s the Points?

After some early resistance by the Nationwide Series folks, it looks like the Cup regulars are beginning to take control of the championship. Clint Bowyer retained his lead on Edwards, but watched it shrink to just nine; more importantly, Busch jumped to within striking distance, now just 66 off the top spot. Supposedly, the jury’s still out on whether Busch will actually attempt to run for the title; things seem to change every week, with the 22-year-old seeming to warm to the idea with each victory lane trophy. Frankly, I think he’s fooling no one; if Busch was willing to try and fly to Kansas to run a full Craftsman Truck Series season, I’m betting he’ll bend over backwards for a Nationwide title he has never won… as long as he stays reasonably in the hunt.

Reutimann and David Ragan round out the top five in the standings, with the two swapping spots after a late-race wreck sent Ragan plummeting down the results sheet. Behind them, Brad Keselowski remains the highest ranked Nationwide-only driver in sixth, followed by fellow competitors Bliss, Jason Leffler, Mike Wallace and Kelly Bires. The problem for all five is the deficit in points they’re now facing; Keselowski is now 186 behind Bowyer,

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): Things heated up, but not until the end – so we’ll give this one three cans of Modelo, with a bitter aftertaste due to pollution in the alcohol.

Next Up: The Nationwide Series heads north of the border to Talladega, where they’ll spend 300 miles trying to avoiding the big wreck – while working towards a bigger finish.

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