Commentary

Sprint Cup bullies, road-course ringers brace for Corona Mexico 200

Sunday's Nationwide Series race in Mexico City will feature a little bit of everything: Sprint Cup bullies, road-course ringers and 70,000 "absolutely rabid" fans expecting one heckuva show, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: April 18, 2008, 6:33 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

MEXICO CITY -- The Nationwide Series has a much different look this weekend in the only race south of the border. For one thing, some of the favorites to win the Corona Mexico 200 are not Sprint Cup regulars.

That alone makes this race unique. But it's also the first road course show of the season and one of only two events on foreign soil. Seven Mexican drivers will try to win one for the home crowd.

However, some things remain the same, including five full-time Cup drivers who dominate the top of the Nationwide standings.

Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, David Ragan and David Reutimann are the series' bullies wanting the steal the show.

The 70,000 fans expected to attend on Sunday at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez course don't really care.

They only want to see a good show and hope one of their own -- maybe super popular Adrian Fernandez or former Champ Car racer Michel Jourdain Jr. -- can outrace the NASCAR regulars.

"The Mexican fans are absolutely rabid," said veteran road-racer Scott Pruett, one of the favorites to win Sunday. "Coming down here with these fans, I mean, there's nothing like 'em."

Those fans saw a wild finish last year when eventual winner Juan Pablo Montoya did a dirty deed on his teammate (Pruett), bumping him out of the way to take the lead.

Pruett said he's over it, but he won't have a chance to return the favor. Montoya isn't here, electing not to defend his controversial victory.

That's one fewer Cup guy in the field and one more spot for a Nationwide driver. Kyle Krisiloff is driving that Chip Ganassi entry.

In this case, it wouldn't hurt to have the 2007 winner in the race, but it wasn't that important to Montoya. He didn't want to do it.

For that matter, neither do the Nationwide teams. It's expensive and logistically difficult to get to this city of 25 million people.

Of course, they also don't like racing at California and Las Vegas back-to-back for the same reasons.

But the Mexico race is one of the best-attended the Nationwide Series has all season. It's also one of only three weekends all year at which the feeder league guys have the show to themselves with no Cup event on the schedule.

The race in Mexico City doesn't have the same buzz that it had in the inaugural 2005 event, but it's still worth the trip for the international exposure and the increased interest from Hispanic Americans. The question is whether it's worth it for the new title sponsor. Nationwide, as the name implies, isn't doing much business in Mexico.

Changes are coming for this series next season in hopes of giving it a better identity. The teams will use the Car of Tomorrow chassis in 2009, mainly for safety reasons, but the manufacturer identity of those cars still is unknown.

NASCAR officials also are considering a change to the points system so drivers ranked in the top 35 in Cup would not earn points in the Nationwide Series.

If that rule was in place now, Brad Keselowski would be the deserving points leader and the five Cuppers at the top wouldn't be title contenders.

NASCAR won't put a limit on participation by Cup drivers or Cup teams. They need them in the Nationwide Series. Fourteen of the 47 entries this weekend are cars fielded by seven Cup team owners.

Nationwide-only competitors will drive seven of those 14 cars this weekend while most of the Cup drivers take a rare weekend off.

Truck racer Erik Darnell is making his Nationwide debut Sunday. Colin Braun is another up-and-comer racing this weekend. Braun (19) and Darnell (25) are teammates at Roush Fenway Racing.

The series has other young racers, including Brad Coleman, Kelly Bires and Landon Cassill, who need only more seat time before advancing to Cup.

Coming soon are Joey Logano and Jeffrey Earnhardt, grandson to Dale Earnhardt Sr.

This is what the series needs. Cup team owners competing in the Nationwide Series should put the talented youngsters in the cars more often instead of the Cup veterans.

That depends on sponsors agreeing to have their company name on the car even if it isn't a Cup regular in the seat.

Scott Wimmer is the one Nationwide-only driver to win a Nationwide race this season, going to Victory Lane in the stand-alone event at Nashville when only six Cup regulars competed.

This race has another option -- road course ringers like Pruett, Fernandez and Boris Said. The Nationwide regular with the best shot at a victory is Marcos Ambrose, who would have won at Montreal last year if not for getting punted by Robby Gordon.

The point is fans have plenty of contenders to watch Sunday besides the Cup bullies.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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