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Foreign Legion - Invades NASCAR
[Editor's Note:  CART was hammered for having foreign drivers, but for NASCAR it is a good thing.  Remember we predicted years ago that open wheel racing had better be on the alert because NASCAR has plans to expand its product outside the borders of the USA.  Bringing in big-name foreign drivers, foreign manufacturers, and starting to race in Canada and Mexico is just the first step in a 2-decade long plan to rule the roost globally.]

There was a time not long ago when a person talked about NASCAR drivers being from the south.
It’s a testament to NASCAR’s growth that the southern driver talked being about these days is from way down south, as in South America.

Colombian native Juan Pablo Montoya is making his presence known in the sport once reserved for men from the southern United States. Montoya is making inroads in NASCAR and blazing a trail for others to follow.

When Jeff Gordon burst on the NASCAR scene in the Busch Series in 1990, he wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms. Here was a young upstart who called California home trying to compete in an auto racing series whose drivers were almost all from the South. Gordon didn’t win his first NASCAR event until he had been in the sport for two years (his first Busch win came in 1992, the same year he debuted in the Cup Series).

From that first win in 1992, Gordon went on to amass a total of five Busch series wins and currently stands at 79 Cup series wins. Add to that four series championships and you can say that he’s enjoyed a successful career in NASCAR. And earned the respect of his fellow competitors.

Gordon’s success showed that you didn’t necessarily have to hail from North Carolina to race in NASCAR. He led the way for others to follow. As the series heads to California this weekend, a total of seven drivers call Golden State home; that ‘s more than any other state. Virginia and North Carolina are tied for second with five drivers each.

Fast forward to 2006 and along comes Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya, a former Formula 1 star and Indianapolis 500 winner who scored his first NASCAR wins before the yellow paint on his rookie stripes was even dry; in just his seventh Busch Series start. His first Nextel Cup series win came in just his 17th start.

It’s that kind of success that has drivers who hail from outside the borders of the United States taking notice.

"I think I opened the door for a lot more people,” Montoya said. “I think people are saying 'Man, this is the sport to be in' and I think in a way it's good for NASCAR because it's going to become the sport to be in and I think it is. I think I was smart enough to come here early enough."

Marcos Ambrose, a native of Tasmania in Australia is a two time V8 Supercar champion in his native land. He made his debut in the Craftsman Truck Series in 2006. He’s currently competing full time in the Busch series (where he’s currently 9th in points) and has his sights set on moving up to the Cup series in 2008.

Canadian born Patrick Carpentier surprised many with his Busch series debut at Montreal where he came home second. He followed that up with a respectable top 25 finish at Watkins Glen.

And now this week another Canadian, Jacques Villeneuve is testing a Craftsman Series truck for Bill Davis Racing as he prepares to make his NASCAR debut next month in Las Vegas. The Formula 1 champion and Indy 500 winner will run a total of seven Truck series events this year along with an ARCA race at Talladega as he readies for his Cup debut in 2008.

As Villeneuve readies for his NASCAR debut, the influx of drivers born outside the US shows just how far NASCAR has come, and how far it could still go.

"When you want to carry on racing, you want it to be at a top level. And in North America, the top level is NASCAR," Villeneuve said. "NASCAR is becoming stronger and stronger every year. It's getting everybody's attention even internationally.” CupScene.com

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