Speed Reading: Four international drivers shift gears into NASCAR

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Ryan McGee

International Association of Stock Car Racing
What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here?

For those of us who have been around NASCAR for the last decade, it is nothing short of bizarre to see the sudden rush of international and open wheel racers proclaiming their interest in taking a shot at stock car racing. During NASCAR's first five decades, it was frequently the target of the global racing set. They referred to stock cars as "taxi cabs" and oval racing as boring. Of course, that was when Indy Car racing dominated the minds of American racing fans and sponsors. And "The 500" was run in Indianapolis, not Daytona.

Now open wheel racers are not-so-subtly floating their NASCAR interests in the press, and some are going so far as to call Nextel Cup owners and announce their intentions to go taxi cab racing.

Isn't it funny what money can do?

It is perhaps the most fitting time of the year for such a United Nations of Rumors to suddenly get cranked up. During open wheel's heyday, the Indy 500 was a time for driving stars from across the globe to descend on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway begging for jobs. These days, the biggest race at IMS isn't the 500¿it's this Sunday's Brickyard 400. And once again, Gasoline Alley will become racing's biggest job fair.

So here is a crash course for NASCAR fans who may not know much about the names that keep popping up in the stock car rumor mill.

Paul Tracy
Nationality: Canadian
Résumé: 2003 Champ Car World Series champion, 30 career wins
NASCAR Connection: Long-rumored to be seeking out a NASCAR ride, Tracy finally took a sizable step toward a stock car gig earlier this week. The active career Champ Car wins leader will test a Richard Childress Racing Chevy next week at the Michigan International Speedway with an eye on running the Nextel Cup race on August 21. Tracy's contract with current employer Gerry Forsythe is up at the end of 2005.
Current NASCAR Star He's Most Like: Kurt Busch. Smart but fearless. Temperamental but talented. Never the most popular guy in the grandstand or the garage, but his driving ability is undeniable.

Johnny Herbert
Nationality: English
Résumé: Formula One 1990-2000, 3 race wins. Currently races in American LeMans Series and is Sporting Relations Manager for the Jordan F1 team
NASCAR Connection: Michael Schumacher's former teammate has never made it a secret that he is a huge NASCAR fan, even when he was winning races in the world's most prestigious racing series. At 41, his age is working against him, but he's in the United States more than not as he competes in ALMS and recently told the BBC, "I've always had an interest in NASCAR and it's something I have been working on for a year and I don't know where that's going to end up."
Current NASCAR Star He's Most Like: Ryan Newman. Herbert's natural feel for a chassis is near-legend and his deep understanding of the world's most technologically-advanced racing machines would be like having an engineer in the driver's seat.

Dan Wheldon
Nationality: English
Résumé: Hello! The guy just won the Indy 500! (No, we aren't wrong. Danica Patrick didn't win.)
NASCAR Connection: Wheldon was recently seen strolling through the Cup garage at the Chicagoland Speedway, a guest of part-time Indy Car racer Robby Gordon. When asked if he was considering a move to stock cars, he admitted that he had talked to several NASCAR teams very seriously about his future. He also acknowledged that he would need some seat time in the Busch Series before he felt comfortable enough to take a shot at Nextel Cup. If NASCAR car owners want him, they better be ready to write some very large checks. The England-based Formula One teams are all expected to make a run at their native son as well.
Current NASCAR Star He's Most Like: Jamie McMurray. And no, not just because they both have very nice hair. Wheldon's appeal to potential employers isn't just his proven winning ways on the track, but his ease in front the camera and sponsor-friendly sense of humor.

Marcus Ambrose
Nationality: Australian
Résumé: Two-time V-8 Supercar champion, 14 career wins, current series points leader
NASCAR Connection: The 29-year old is known as "The Devil Racer" and between races back home, he has been bedeviling American short tracks such as Caraway Speedway and Greenville-Pickens. He does his damage Down Under behind the wheel of a Ford, and the automaker is pushing hard to get Ambrose a shot in NASCAR. Ford execs brought the Aussie to Michigan in June to shake hands and have arranged tutoring sessions with the likes of Kurt Busch, Mark Martin and Ricky Rudd.
Current NASCAR Star He's Most Like: Jimmie Johnson. Like J.J., Ambrose comes from a road racing background. And like Johnson, his photo-friendly smile quickly transforms into killer instinct behind the wheel.

Ryan McGee is the managing editor at NASCAR Images. He can be reached at his e-mail address:
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Busch Beat
Obviously looking to capitalize on the success of this week's international-themed Speed Reading, FitzBradshaw Racing has announced that Carlos Contreras will drive the No. 40 Chevy at Watkins Glen on August 13. The Mexican racer is quite the NASCAR veteran, starting 70 Truck Series events between 1999 and 2002 and three previous Busch Series starts. He started 8th and finished 36th with mechanical problems at Mexico City back in March.

Truck Stop
The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series paddock is abuzz after last week's announcement that the Trucks will be racing at Talladega on Saturday, October 7, 2006. Half the buzz is very good¿the other half is very cautious. "We absolutely know that the racing will be great because of what we do at Daytona," says one series vet. "But we also know from Daytona that we will have the potential of having just a big ol' scary wreck like no one has ever seen before. It will be up to us old guys to really give these young'ns a talking to."

Why We Call Richard Petty "The King" Fact of the Week
Petty never raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, retiring two years before the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994. But The King was allowed to take the first official NASCAR laps around the legendary 2 1/2-mile track in 1993. And during its first couple of decades in business, Indy's Hall of Fame and Museum included only one stock car in its legendary collection of racing machines — the red, white, and blue No. 43 STP machine.

Who's Hot & Who's Not

  • Tony Stewart: Stewart inched one spot closer to the Cup points lead by finishing 7th at Pocono, his worst finish in six weeks. The Brickyard is Tony's white whale, failing to find Victory Lane in 15 tries — six Brickyard 400's, five Indy 500's, and four IROC events.

  • Jeff Gordon: It's as simple as this — Gordon's season hinges on Sunday's race. The four-time 400 champ is 15th in points and represents the cut-off line between Chase contenders and pretenders. His 13th-place Pocono run was his 2nd-best run in the last six races.
  • Power Rankings
  • Not a stunt

    During this long, hot summer, Americans are spending their Saturday afternoons doing any and everything possible to stay inside ¿ where the AC is cranking and frosty treats are just a few steps away. Which means that most of us ¿ whether we realize it or not ¿ have been spending a good chunk of our time with a SoCal dude named Stanton Barrett. No, you probably haven't heard of him. And that's fine. He doesn't want to be recognized most of the time. Besides, how are you supposed to identify someone who spends most of his time either moving at 180 miles per hour or setting himself on fire?
  • Read the complete story
  • Speed Mail of the Week
    Uncle Jesse in Austin, Texas: Let's hope Stanton Barrett's hard NASCAR work pays off better than his work on Dukes of Hazzard. His unbelievable river jump in the General Lee was the only thing that kept me from thinking I wasted two hours of my life at the sneak preview last weekend.
    Tagged: Kurt Busch

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