More than 94,000 fans in Mexico see Truex win
MEXICO CITY -- NASCAR's first surprise-filled journey south of the border finished a lot like those back home, with regulars Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards at the front of the pack.
Truex used a planned early pit stop -- and took advantage of a lucky yellow flag that shut the door on two pursuers -- to hang onto the lead over the final 28 laps of the first points-paying NASCAR race outside the United States in a half century.
Nextel Cup driver Kevin Harvick finished just over 6 seconds back, second in a third-consecutive Busch Series race after slipping past Carl Edwards on the 78th lap of the 80-lap Telcel-Motorola 200.
Truex made two early pit stops, his last at the 46th lap.
"We wanted to have a full tank of gas with 40 laps to go,'' Truex said.
The pit stop came seconds before a caution flag came out.
Adrian Fernandez and Boris Said, running in the top five, were caught in the approach to pit road and were penalized for pitting too quickly after the caution period started. They started at the back of pack, dashing their chances to win.
"As soon as we reached pit road and they told me the caution was out, I said, 'Yeah! That's perfect! We caught a little bit of luck there,'' Truex said.
Said battled back to fifth and Fernandez to 10th by the end of the race.
Edwards had a remarkable comeback as well. He smashed his main car in practice and blew a replacement engine. Yet he managed to qualify ninth and finish third in his backup car.
Reed Sorenson, who entered the race second to Harvick in the season points standing, was running strong before spinning onto the grass on lap 59. Virtually all of the pack passed before he could get back on the track.
The race was a boost for NASCAR's effort to build a new fan base in Mexico, where open-wheel racing has been dominant. Promoters said a healthy 94,229 people turned out on race day following a 38,319 crowd for Saturday's qualifying.
"This could become the marquee event for the series,'' said Robbie Weiss, NASCAR's chief of international business. But he said no contract had yet been signed for next year.
Ticket prices started at 180 pesos -- about $17 -- nearly double the country's median daily wage.
But fans hoping for a hometown stunner had to be satisfied the pole position and early race leadership of the little-known Jorge Goeters, who was making his first Busch Series race.
Goeters led for the first 24 laps, but his first NASCAR pit stop was a disaster -- coming in under the green flag and stopping initially at a neighboring pit.
He battled back up to 10th but pulled off the track on the 66th lap with his car spewing smoke.
Fernandez, making his first NASCAR start, had the fastest practice time but a crash in qualifying knocked him to the back of Sunday's grid. He fought back to the lead, but was then penalized to the back again.
Edwards clipped another Mexican star, Michel Jourdain Jr., spinning him into the wall and knocking him out of the race for 10 laps while his crew worked on repairs.
"I was a little overaggressive,'' Edwards said in a public apology to Jourdain. "I hope I can make it up to him.''
Carlos Contreras, the first Mexican to race in a Busch race, was running a steady sixth when his car slowed on the 72nd lap and he pitted.
Robby Gordon qualified in the first row Saturday but quickly ran into engine woes during the race, and pitted after the 59th lap after spewing oil on the track.
NASCAR said it was investigating a prerace scuffle between Gordon and Carl Edwards' crew chief, Brad Parrott.
NASCAR modified the Hermanos Rodriguez course, designed for Formula One and Champ Cars, to accommodate the less-agile and slower-braking NASCAR vehicles.
The prerace festivities were conducted in Spanglish. After the national anthems of Mexico and the United States, Grand Marshall Eugenio Derbez, a local television star, cried out, "Viva Mexico!'' and summoned the cars to life with the traditional English cry, "Gentlemen, start your engines!''
The only previous points-paying NASCAR race held outside the U.S. was in 1952, when Buddy Shuman won a 100-mile Nextel Cup (then called Grand National) race held on a half-mile dirt track at Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press