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First-timer Goeters saves day for Mexican fans

3/6/2005

MEXICO CITY -- Some NASCAR teams worried about security as
they made their first trip south of the border. They had reason for
concern: Somebody stole the pole.
Mexico's Jorge Goeters thrilled hometown fans Saturday by
topping qualifying for Sunday's Telcel-Motorola 200, edging Nextel
Cup veteran Robby Gordon.
"It was really cool to see that guy get the pole, to see all
the fans going crazy with the air horns going," said defending
series champ Martin Truex Jr., who was third-fastest. "I don't
think they'd have done that for me."
It also was good news for NASCAR, adding to local interest in a
race that it hopes will help build an enduring relationship with
fans in Mexico and with Hispanic fans in the United States as well.
"As far as Busch qualifying, I don't think we've ever had this
many people at the track," Truex said, though officials did not
have a count of the crowd Saturday.
Goeters called it "the happiest day of my life" after his No.
66 Ford bumped Gordon to second on the 2.518-mile road course.
"I can't tell you what this event means for me and for my
country. I've always dreams of running in NASCAR," Goeters said.
"I didn't even know it was a good lap until my team told me. 'You
did it! You're the leader!"'
It got even happier later. Goeters started on the pole in the
afternoon's Corona Challenge race and finished second to brother
Patrick.
The two leaped atop Patrick Goeters' car and embraced after the
race, part of what NASCAR hopes will become a local development
series. The Corona stockers develop about 390 to 400 horsepower.
The 34-year-old Goeters has won Mexican titles in trucks (2002),
Mustangs (1997), sport prototypes and tractor trucks (both in
1996).
But even in Mexico City, he's been overshadowed by a half-dozen
other drivers, such as Adrian Fernandez, Busch Series rookie Michel
Jourdain Jr. and Champ Car driver Mario Dominguez.
Gordon said he had been told that he would have to drop to the
back of the pack due to an engine change after practice on Friday.
But NASCAR officials said later he could start in the front row
because the change came before qualifying.
He expected the slick, winding track to produce a lot of yellow
flags on race day: "I'm going to take a number and say 12."
"We're going to run three laps and we're going to have a
caution. We're going to run five laps and we're going to have a
caution."
Road course specialists Boris Said and Ron Fellows qualified
fourth and fifth, following by series points leader Kevin Harvick.
Said was the last driver to take a poll in his first Busch
Series race, at Watkins Glen in 1998.
While Goeters benefited from knowledge of the track, fellow
veterans of the Hermanos Rodriguez circuit were slipping, sliding
and crashing as much as the oval-track visitors.
Fernandez, who had Friday's fastest practice time, shocked the
fans by veering wide on the sixth turn and slapping the wall with
his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Jourdain qualified on the ninth row using a modified oval-track
backup car after a stuck throttle sent him into the wall during
practice.
Local driver Freddy Tame botched the chicane inserted into the
front straight to hold down speeds at the sharp first turn -- the
same place where Stan Silva Jr. planted his car in a sand trap.
If the first turn was dangerous -- Champ Car has had multicar
tangles there -- the chicane has proved nasty in its own right.
"The way it is now, you can almost go through there wide open
and those curbs are so tall that if you clip one, it's huge,"
Jamie McMurray said.
"That's not a passing zone. That's just a hazard."
McMurray was one of at least six drivers who bumped the wall
during practice, making his mark on the concrete on the final,
sweeping turn.
"To me, it's a nice race track, but there's no forgiveness,"
he said. "You run off, you hit something."