Nadeau still looking for home
by Pete McCole

August 9, 2002

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Nadeau nearly won at Sonoma, but the car would break with just a handful of laps remaining.
Photo: Dodge/Allsport

Last June, everything seemed to have finally turned around for Jerry Nadeau.

Having been released from his ride in the #25 Rick Hendrick-owned UAW-Delphi Chevrolet earlier in the season, Nadeau landed a ride driving the #44 Dodge for Petty Enterprises in a one race deal for the Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. Now, here he was, enjoying a commanding lead over Ricky Rudd with only a handful of laps standing between him and his second Winston Cup victory.

"Once we got out in front and got past Bill Elliott, we just checked out. We had a four and a half second lead. I knew Ricky (Rudd) was coming, but I didn't think there was enough time for him to catch us."

What was turning out to be a feel good story about a hard luck driver all came apart with just three laps to go, when the rear end gear on Nadeau's Dodge gave out. His car coasted to a stop just a few yards from the start finish line as Rudd flew past to take the lead and eventually win the race.

It was just the latest in a string of setbacks for Nadeau. The same old story - just when things were looking so bright they always seemed to turn so dark.

Still, Nadeau was not bitter about the experience - it comes with the territory.

"To be honest, I was over it by the time I walked across pit road." Nadeau said, "You can't hold on to things like that. It doesn't make you a better driver. I think I let go of things a lot easier than most people. I think it makes me stronger and bolder and things will get better down the road."

Jerry Nadeau

Nadeau's five-year career in Winston Cup has been a roller-coaster ride, including stints with Richard Jackson, Bill Elliott, Melling Racing and MB2 Motorsports. He signed on with Hendrick Motorsports to drive the #25 car in 2000, and scored his only Winston Cup victory driving for Hendrick in the season ending race at Atlanta in 2000. His chance to repeat the performance at the same race a year later ended on the final lap when he ran out of fuel.

"I thought things were going to go well at Hendrick and they just kind of fell apart." Nadeau said, "It just wasn't the right place for me to be. I never seemed to be getting anywhere."

Last May, Hendrick and Nadeau parted ways, with Joe Nemechek taking over the #25. Nadeau managed to keep himself busy while he pursed a full-time ride, filling in for the injured Johnny Benson in the #10 Valvoline Pontiac for several races, as well as driving a Michael Waltrip-owned car at Talladega. He was tapped by Petty Enterprises to replace interim driver Steve Grissom in the #44 Georgia Pacific Dodge for the road course race at Sears Point.

An experienced road racing veteran, Nadeau is hoping for greater success tackling the only other road course on the Winston Cup circuit, the 11-turn, 2.45-mile Watkins Glen. Nadeau started third and finished sixth in last years race.

"I'm looking forward to Watkins Glen. Watkins Glen is not nearly as tough as Sears Point. I think the competition at Watkins Glen will be a lot closer." Nadeau said, "I think Sears Point is more of a technical race track, and the Glen is more of a high speed road course."

"I think Sears Point is tougher driving. It's more technical. The turns are tougher. You've got to be more of a road racer to do real well at a place like Sears Point. The track can get really slick and it can get really hot, so it's a very physical race track. Whereas the Glen, it's a cool race track. There's a lot more right hand turns than left hand turns, so a lot of the guys will set up their cars a little different so they actually work better in the right hand turns. There's just as much left as there is right at Sears Point."

"We're going to take the same car we ran at Sears Point, with maybe just a slight chassis adjustment and go out and attack the track just like I attack any other race track."

Born in Danbury, Conn, Nadeau always welcomes the opportunity to return to his native New England and The Glen.

"I love to go to that place. I have a lot of friends and family that come up and we have cookouts on Friday night and eat plenty of lobster," said Nadeau. "Besides the racing, the food is going to be good, too."

His performance that day in Sonoma was enough to convince Petty Enterprises to sign him to drive the #44 for the rest of the 2002 season, but despite that, Nadeau's plans beyond the 2002 season are unclear. The Petty's appear to have finalized their plans for 2003 - signing CART veteran Christian Fittipaldi to drive a limited Winston Cup and Busch Series effort, leaving Nadeau still searching for the right team.

"I wish the best for them. It's going to be difficult." Nadeau said, "I know Christian (Fittapaldi) has done a few Busch races and I'm sure he realizes how tough it really is. Wait until he gets to Winston Cup. It's definitely a lot tougher."

"I haven't found my right home. You look at guys like Dale Jarrett. He didn't win until like five or six years he was in Winston Cup. He found the right place. That's the kind of position I'm in right now. I'm just trying to find the right home. I'm trying to find the right place with the right chemistry with the right people to work with. I guess you can say I'm still looking. I'm just trying to see where I'm going to end up next season and beyond that."

"I've had a strange career, and I took a tough road to get here. I appreciate just being in NASCAR Winston Cup racing. I've just got to take it day by day and week by week. My time will come. That's the way I look at it." 

The author can be contacted nascar@autoracing1.com

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