Mexico City a special event for drivers and fans

It's back to Mexico City and the entire NASCAR spotlight is on the Busch Series. It is a weekend drivers and fans eagerly anticipate, writes Rupen Fofaria.

Updated: March 3, 2007, 6:56 PM ET
By Rupen Fofaria | Special to ESPN.com

With the Nextel Cup drivers taking a breather, the Busch Series and Mexico City are set to shine in the NASCAR spotlight this weekend at the 2.518-mile road course called Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

Denny Hamlin
Otherimages/WireImage.comDenny Hamlin loved his trip to Mexico City last season.

"I've spent a lot of time in Mexico in San Carlos the last few years but only to relax and do some fishing," said Greg Biffle, who stands fifth in the Busch points standings. "I've never been to Mexico City and I guess part of me wants to run this race just to say I did it, kind of like running the 24-hour race at Daytona. It's an opportunity that I just couldn't pass up this year."

Opportunity abounds for the crop of 43 who will race on Sunday (Full Circle on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, 1:30 p.m. ET). For the newcomers, it's a chance to shine without the shadow of the Nextel teams overshadowing the weekend. For native Mexicans, it's a chance to showcase their talents before a home crowd.

Rogelio Lopez, Antonio Perez, Jorge Goeters, Michel Jourdain Jr. and Adrian Fernandez will attempt to qualify for the Telcel-Motorola Mexico 200. It will be the first event of the year for all.

They won't monopolize the rabid fans, though. Denny Hamlin, who's chasing the opportunity to become the first back-to-back NASCAR winner at the track, will have his fair share of support.

"I really enjoy traveling to Mexico City," he said. "[The fans] are extremely passionate about racing. We did a hospitality appearance last year for Rockwell Automation and it was one of the warmest receptions I received all year.

"The cheers I heard when I got out of the car after the race were deafening. I was amazed how long the fans remained around after the race. I must have signed as many autographs after the race as I did before it. I am sure they wanted a local driver to win, but I think I still made some fans last year."

Hamlin's crew chief, Dave Rogers, is looking forward to the trip, too.

"When I get there, I am sure it will be sentimental for about five minutes," he said, "but then it is time to try to win another trophy."

Third time a charm?
Fernandez will probably be the most popular driver in the field on Sunday, and he'll also be the favorite to win. Fernandez, who will race in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevy as he has the past two Mexico City races, was a contender to win the first two races south of the border. He's hoping the luck that hasn't gone his way is ready to change this year.

"It's a great opportunity for me to get back and race in front of our fans," he said. "I think we have a great opportunity. If you look at our races, the last two races with Hendrick and the Lowe's car, we were very competitive in both occasions. In both occasions we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But we always were competing for a win.

"I feel that this year will be the same. Hopefully with a little bit of luck, we should be able to win this race, which for me will be so special in front of our fans. It's always just a pleasure to race here with so many good drivers, all the NASCAR community, which I have enjoyed tremendously in the last few years."

Extra curve
Not only will the oval-loving NASCAR crowd have to adjust to road-course racing, but Hamlin says you have to adjust to a unique kind of road course at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

"The track … challenges the driver on every corner and with the removal of chicane you really are going to be smooth through the first corner," he said. "Restarts are definitely going to be interesting with people drag-racing into that turn."

Playing with pain
David Reutimann plans to drive the No. 99 Toyota this weekend after his hard crash during last weekend's Cup race at California Speedway.

"I feel really good and I'm ready to race," he said. "My left foot hurts a little bit and I'm walking with just a slight limp."

Rupen Fofaria has covered NASCAR for ESPN.com since 2002. He can be reached at rupenisracin@yahoo.com.