Mexican driver to make Cup start at Sonoma

At Infineon Raceway, José Luis Ramírez will attempt to become only the second Mexican-born driver to compete in a NASCAR Nextel Cup race. Sponsored by Bay Area-based mortgage company, he will try to qualify the #52 Dodge for the Dodge/Save Mart 350, to be held at the Sonoma track June 26. Ramírez was among the nine Latino drivers showcased in NASCAR's Busch race held in Mexico City in March – the sport's first foray onto foreign soil. In the field of 43, he finished 31st, ahead of such Cup regulars as Jamie McMurray and Robby Gordon. Ramírez, 26, started his career in karting and Trans-Am road racing in his hometown of Mexico City before switching to stock cars. Now a regular in NASCAR's Grand National West Series, Ramírez has made 17 starts. He finished 10th in the series standings in 2004. In April, he crashed his Cup car during testing at Infineon Raceway, hitting the foam barriers at Turn 4. He suffered minor injuries to his right eye, right foot and back, but drove to an eighth-place finish two days later in a Grand National race at Phoenix International Raceway. Other than that late-day mishap, Ramírez came away satisfied with his performance on Sonoma's notoriously tricky 10-turn track. The only previous Mexican-born Cup driver retired before Ramírez was born. Mexican racing legend Pedro Rodríguez, who drove in six Cup races between 1959 and 1971, was NASCAR's Latino pioneer. A regular in sports car events at Daytona International Speedway, Rodríguez finished fifth in NASCAR's 1965 World 600 at Charlotte – his best Cup result. Sponsor – a major mortgage lender in the Latino community – chose Ramírez as its driver specifically because of his heritage, chief executive officer Bill Coleman said. Sacramento Bee

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