International Drivers throughout NASCAR’s History

When you look through most names in NASCAR history, a vast majority of them have one thing in common: they are all American. Which does make lots of sense, as the sport is traditionally associated with southern American culture, the two seemingly going hand-in-hand. There is a select few, however, who have managed to transcend these borders, both literally and culturally.

The first and perhaps most iconic driver born outside of the US is the legendary Mario Andretti, hailing from Italy, even though he is American by nationality. Though never completing a full season in NASCAR, Andretti completed only seven NASCAR Cup series races before claiming his one and only victory, at the Daytona 500 no less. Aside from his single win, Andretti’s NASCAR stats are rather lackluster compared to his other motorsports ventures. With 33 USAC wins, 19 CART wins, and 12 Formula One wins, this man is no doubt one of the best drivers to ever sit behind the wheel. One of the only people to win both the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, Mario Andretti is forever going to stand out in the history books of every motorsport he’s competed in.

Earl Ross was born in the Great White Northern nation of Canada. Ross’s first year of Cup competition in 1973  wasn’t all too competitive, with a best finish of fourteenth. His second season, 1974, would see some gradual improvement, with his first career top-five at Charlotte, followed by a runner-up in Michigan. A couple of top-tens at Nashville and Michigan, and a pair of top-fives at Dover and North Wilkesboro eventually led to him leading 79 laps on his way to victory at the iconic Martinsville Speedway. After that, Earl capped off the season with two more top-tens. A few years later, he retired from NASCAR racing as a whole. Aside from NASCAR, he also enjoyed success in a variety of regional Canadian stock car racing series. Unfortunately, at the age of 73, Earl Ross passed in 2014. To this day he holds the record of being the only Canadian to win a NASCAR Cup Series event

Ron Fellows, another Canadian, had much success in his early career, competing in many different sports car races and capturing a total of 19 Trans Am wins. In the late 1990s, he was given opportunities to be a Road Course Ringer for a few NASCAR Cup, Busch (now Xfinity), and Truck Series teams. In 1997, Fellows was on a part time deal in the Truck Series running five races including the two road course events. At the nineteenth race of the season at Watkins Glen, Ron led 21 out of 62 laps en route to his first ever NASCAR sanctioned win. Just a year later in the NASCAR Busch Series, he claimed his second win at the same track. For the next ten years, he competed in at least one race across the Busch/Nationwide series and Cup Series a year. He claimed his fourth and final win in the 2008 Nationwide Series race at Montreal, just a little over ten years after his first. Ron went on to race for another half decade on a part time schedule, making his final start in the 2013 Nationwide race at Mid Ohio.

Perhaps one of the most impactful, or at least memorable, foreign drivers in NASCAR is Colombian-born Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya, similar to Fellows, didn’t start his career in stock car racing. Instead, he had an extremely successful open-wheel career. In his first ever season of CART in 1999, he won the title, and only a year later won his first ever Indianapolis 500. Moving up to Formula One in 2001, he scored four podiums and a win at the Italian Grand Prix. After five and a half seasons, Juan decided to trade in his 2006 silver McLaren for a black and red Dodge Charger in NASCAR. With four Busch starts and one Nextel Cup start in 2006, he ran the entire Nextel Cup schedule in 2007 and part time in the Busch Series. He ended that year with a win in the Cup Series at Sonoma Raceway and a win in the Busch Series at Mexico City. 2008 and 2009 would be nothing too extraordinary other than a few top-fives every once in a while and some pole positions, but 2010 would see another win at Watkins Glen. His final full time year would come in 2013, and since making a few starts in 2014 for Roger Penske’s #12 Ford, he hasn’t competed in NASCAR.

Daniel Suàrez, hailing from Monterrey, Mexico, is one of the most successful NASCAR drivers not born in the United States. His multiple wins in NASCAR Mexico and the K&N Regional series caught the attention of Joe Gibbs. He was set to run two NASCAR Nationwide Series events and one NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event in 2014, leading to a full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series effort in 2015. A good rookie year was backed up by his first Xfinity win in 2016. Consistency when it mattered eventually led Daniel to become the first ever foreign NASCAR Champion, which gave him the promotion to the Cup Series in 2017. His rookie year in the JGR #19 was decent, showing he had the speed to contend for good finishes. His sophomore year in 2018, however, was a clear regression. Season’s end saw him out of the Gibbs camp, scrambling for a new ride until Tony Stewart and Gene Haas tapped him to replace the Ganassi-bound Kurt Busch in the #41 Ford in 2019. That was a good season, though he still remained winless compared to his teammates who were all fast enough for the Playoffs. Suàrez was out of a seat at the end of the year being replaced by rookie Cole Custer, and riding around towards the back in 2020 in the severely underpowered Gaunt Brother’s #96. There was a silver lining, though, as Justin Marks’ and Pitbull’s new Trackhouse Racing hired Suàrez to pilot the #99 Chevrolet. The team showed flashes of greatness in 2021, and now it’s time for Daniel to capitalize on that speed this season.

And finally, perhaps one of the most successful people mentioned, is French-Canadian Jacques Villeneuve. Son of F1 driver Gilles Villeneuve, Jacques was practically born into greatness. Starting his racing career in CART in 1994, he won in only his fourteenth start, and then backed that up with the CART Championship in 1995. ‘96 saw him migrate to Formula One like his father, scoring four victories in his rookie year. 1997 saw a fierce title battle between himself and the legendary Michael Schumacher, with Villeneuve coming out on top. After this, Villeneuve seemingly fell off the face of the Earth, claiming hardly any more podiums the rest of his F1 career. He then retired in 2006, to pursue stock car racing in the United States. He made seven NASCAR Truck Series starts in 2007 for Bill Davis Racing, with no top-tens, a highest finish of fourteenth, and barely mediocre results. That same year he had the opportunity to go Cup racing for two starts in Bill Davis’s #27 Toyota. He finished twenty-first at Talladega, but wasn’t as lucky at Phoenix where he DNF’d halfway through the race. In 2008, he attempted that year’s Daytona 500, but unfortunately did not qualify. He ran an Xfinity race per year until 2012, and a Cup race per year until 2013. After a single NASCAR Pinty’s start, he wouldn’t be in a NASCAR sanctioned event until the 2019 NASCAR Euro Series, where he scored three podiums. 2021 saw the announcement of the Dutch Team Hezeberg, with NASCAR Euro Series star Loris Hezemans as the main focus, competing in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series road course races using the #27 Ford. Villeneuve became their test driver, and their focus shifted from only the road courses on the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series schedule to potentially attempting the ovals as well. During that season’s Daytona test, similar to the old “Pre-Season Thunder,” Villeneuve announced that he and Team Hezeberg will attempt to qualify for the 2022 Daytona 500. During Speedweek, Villeneuve locked himself into the 500 on speed alone, meaning that he could relax in his Duel race the next day. After multiple issues in the 500, he and the small team eventually powered to a twenty-second place finish, which isn’t amazing, but for a team who was only a show car a few months ago, it seems like a success.

So who’s next on this list? Will it be young NASCAR Trucks driver Raphael Lessard? Or will we see yet another F1 or IndyCar star make the move to stock cars? For now only time will tell, and recently time seems to have been moving in a positive direction for NASCAR.

Photo Credit///@TeamHezeberg on Twitter

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: