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Jourdain shifts from Champ to NASCAR

Champ Car driver Michel Jourdain Jr. signed a deal Thursday with Ford Motorsports to switch to NASCAR and run the full Busch series schedule this season.

Jourdain plans to drive a Taurus for ppc Racing and will be the first Hispanic to race a full NASCAR Busch schedule.

"I'm very excited about this chance," Jourdain said. "I've been wanting to come to NASCAR for a couple years now, and (Ford Racing director) Dan Davis worked very hard with me to find the right opportunity where I could have a chance to work and learn with a top team like ppc."

Jourdain, 28, spent nine years in top open-wheel competition and finished 12th in the Champ Car World Series last season in a Ford-powered car for RuSport.

The son of well-known Mexican racer Michel Jourdain Sr., he became the youngest Champ Car driver at age 19 in 1996 and was the former CART series' most improved driver in 1997.

In 152 career Champ Car starts, Jourdain had two wins, 25 top-10s and nine podiums. His best championship finish was third in 2003, when he raced for Team Rahal.

But Jourdain shifted to Ru-Sport last season rather than go with Rahal to the IRL.

Ford, which has a history of working with its drivers to get them in the best rides possible, arranged for Jourdain to test with ppc Racing last October. The team plans to test him at Daytona International Speedway, but it's unclear if NASCAR will approve Jourdain to compete in the February season-opener there because of his lack of superspeedway experience.

He will, however, be eligible to race on many other tracks, including the Mexico City road course. The Busch cars compete there in March.

"This is something that has been in the works for a couple years, and we've been looking for an opportunity like this to give a deserving driver like Michel the chance to succeed in NASCAR," Davis said. "The fact that we've been able to get this program together this year when the series is going to have its first race in Mexico just adds to the excitement."

His new team fields cars in all three of NASCAR's premier divisions. John Andretti drives for ppc in the Nextel Cup series, Kenny Wallace in Busch and Terry Cook in Craftsman Truck.

ANOTHER SWITCH: Roger Yasukawa, who drove in two races for Rahal Letterman Racing last season, will compete in the IRL's IndyCar series this year with the Dreyer & Reinbold team.

Yasukawa was 10th in the Indianapolis 500 last year. His only other race with Rahal Letterman was an 11th-place finish at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. He drove the full season with Super Aguri Fernandez in 2003, when he had eight top-10 finishes and was runner-up for IndyCar rookie of the year.

Michel Jourdain will be the first Hispanic to race a full NASCAR Busch schedule. He'll drive a Taurus.