While others crash, Fernandez, Fellows and Said go fast

Updated: March 4, 2005, 8:07 PM ET
Associated Press

MEXICO CITY -- Open-wheel ace Adrian Fernandez showed he could master a stock car faster than most of his NASCAR rivals could solve his hometown's tricky road course on Friday.

In his first day of Busch Series practice, Fernandez turned the fastest lap -- an average of 103.631 mph -- in a Chevrolet.

Fernandez thinks there will a lot of crashing in Sunday's Telcel-Motorola 200 -- the first Busch Series race outside the United States.

"I hope I can be in front so I can avoid all that,'' the Mexican said.

Sponsorship problems pulled Fernandez away from a ride with his own team in the IRL this year, but he signed a one-race deal to drive for Hendrick Motorsports at NASCAR's first foray into Mexico. He's a national sports hero for his exploits in Champ Car and the IRL.

He had expressed concern about coping with the dramatically different handling of the NASCAR vehicles, but noted that the visiting drivers would have to learn the 2.518-mile road course.

Practice claimed at least five cars Friday, oval-circuit veterans and local-track experts alike.

Carl Edwards, the 2003 Craftsman Truck series rookie of the year, was fastest in morning practice.

"I'm having a blast,'' he said. "This is like riding your dirt bike through the woods.''

In the afternoon, he took his Ford off the course, smashing headfirst into the walls on both sides of the track after mishandling a chicane NASCAR had inserted into the long front straight to reduce accidents at the track's sharp first turn.

He was unhurt, but soon returned to the pits with smoke pouring from his replacement car.

Mexico's lone regular in the Busch Series, Michael Jourdan Jr., crushed his car's rear end into a wall during the afternoon session.

Jamie McMurray lost his car on the first turn. Mexico's Rafael Martinez totaled his on the long, final turn. Randy LaJoie smashed the right front end of his.

"I think they're just trying to get too much out of the car too fast,'' said Robby Gordon, who had the day's sixth-fastest time.

"It's just about being smart and not being too aggressive,'' Gordon said. "If the car won't hold, slow down.''

Road course specialists Ron Fellows and Boris Said, pulled in especially for the race, ran the fastest laps after that of Fernandez.

Gordon said the goal was "to be around for the last 20 laps'' of Sunday's 80-lap event.

"All this stuff before practice and all this stuff for the first 60 laps just doesn't matter,'' he said. "You've got to have a whole race car to race for the last 20.''

Fernandez's performance was a boost for promoters trying to sell NASCAR-style racing to a country that has long embraced open-wheel competition such as Formula One and Champ Car.

Promoter Ocesa's motor sports director, Federico Alaman, said earlier that 45,000 tickets had been sold by Thursday and predicted a crowd of 80,000 for the race.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press