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Considering that stock car racing is the most distinctly American brand of motorsports, there have been times where NASCAR and its best drivers have seemed distant or isolated from the international racing scene. In some regards, there are still times internationally where NASCAR is viewed as a curious slice of Americana -- but a curiosity enough that more and more of the world's top drivers are beginning to look toward giving it a try.

This weekend's NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas features not just another influx of open wheel and sports car racers making cameos in stock cars, but a visit to the Cup garage from a pair of internationally renowned racers. 2007 Formula One world champion Kimi Raikkonen returns for another go in Trackhouse Racing's Project 91 Cup car after making his debut at Watkins Glen last summer, and he will be joined by his F1 contemporary and 2009 world champion Jenson Button, who will be making his NASCAR debut for Rick Ware Racing in conjunction with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Couple that with the arrival of IMSA racer Jordan Taylor as the substitute driver for Chase Elliott, and the stars of NASCAR -- like Ryan Blaney -- have once again seen their sport become a platform of international intrigue and a form of racing that has become a worthy challenge for world-class racers.

"That just shows that I think that everyone has an interest," Blaney recently told CBS Sports. "I think if you ask any racer out there, their interest in other forms of motorsports are always high, because you just always want to try different things and drive different vehicles. You have your sport that you're mainly focused on, but as far as those two guys that are retired from F1 [Raikkonen and Button], they're gonna go do everything they can and get behind the wheel of everything they can.

"So I think it's really great. I look forward to being able to race with them and hopefully shake their hand."

While a bridge between the two has always been present and been crossed before, NASCAR and some of the top disciplines in international racing -- particularly Formula One -- have always existed in separate worlds.

Some of this can be explained by geographical distance, cultural differences and the professional demands that each discipline requires for a driver to master it. But in NASCAR's case, some of that can be explained by a period of scheduling and market stagnation plus an overall lack of new ideas that it had to break out of before it could grow again.

With the advent of the Next Gen car and a greater number and variety of road course races, NASCAR's international profile is now beginning to grow. The Watkins Glen race last August featuring drivers from seven different countries, the most in the sport's history, was a testament to NASCAR's growing relevance in motorsports beyond North America and the intrigue it has created.

"It's obviously going in a good direction if you have those guys wanting to come over and try it," Blaney said. "It just shows growth in the sport and I think the things we've done over the last handful of years in going to these unique places and going to new areas around the country – hopefully that'll expand here beyond our country in the next five years.

"But I think it's just great. It's the direction that it needs to go and it's just the way you kind of have to branch out. I think NASCAR, they've done a good job at branching out. But also doing a good job at staying true to who were are originally. I think you have to have a healthy mixture of both, and I think they've been really good in doing things like that."

What has aided that branching out in particular is Trackhouse Racing's Project 91 program, which was established last year to provide a platform for international racing stars to take a shot at NASCAR in a competitive car. Raikkonen will be in the Project 91 car once again this weekend, and Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks confirmed this week that the team would be running multiple races this year with multiple drivers.

Whether other teams in NASCAR will follow suit and field similar programs remains to be seen, including at Team Penske. While Penske has a long history well beyond NASCAR and has recently expanded its horizons to field a Porsche 963 in the World Endurance Championship, Blaney did not foresee his team establishing a program in NASCAR similar to Project 91 when asked by CBS Sports.

"I can't speak for [the team], but I don't really see us doing that anytime soon," Blaney said. "I think it's a great idea what Justin Marks is doing over there. I just don't know if it's in the near future for us."

Blaney currently sits fourth in the Cup Series points standings one week after the debut of his new "Storm Trooper White" BodyArmor SportWater Ford at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Despite having a very strong car, Blaney had to battle his way back from a pit road speeding penalty to get back on the lead lap, eventually doing so and then finding the front again before finishing seventh.