Villeneuve to make NASCAR Nextel Cup debut
Jacques Villeneuve will make his NASCAR Nextel Cup race debut next weekend, five weeks earlier than originally planned, in the ‘UAW-Ford 500’, at the famous Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Villeneuve, who sat in a ‘Cup’ car for the first time just 24 days ago, was initially scheduled to race the ARCA and NASCAR Craftsman Truck races at Talladega – steps one and two on the NASCAR ladder – whilst watching the main ‘Cup’ event on Sunday, along with over 143,000 trackside spectators.
Villeneuve’s fast-track to ‘Cup’, the top step of the NASCAR ladder, has been made possible only with the approval of NASCAR. His recent performance in his debut ‘Car of Tomorrow’ test, also at Talladega, where he ran more laps than any other driver, and successfully ‘bump-drafted’ his way through the pack, without making enemies of the more experienced drivers, is seen to have eased that same process of approval.
Having made his NASCAR race debut in the Craftsman Truck event at Las Vegas just last weekend, Villeneuve now faces a new challenge, where he will again be focused initially on qualifying his number 27 car (43 cars will start the race, of which 36 are guaranteed a place based on pre-earned team points – Villeneuve does not have the benefit of such team points, either earned or inherited).
In addition to Sunday’s 500-miler, Villeneuve will contest Saturday afternoon’s Craftsman Truck event, the 94-lap ‘Mountain Dew 250’, which is exactly half the length of Sunday’s flagship ‘Cup’ race. Earlier this week, the 36-year-old Canadian tested an ARCA car at Talladega, for the first time, and found cockpit temperatures soaring to over 150˚F/65˚C. If everything goes to plan for Villeneuve, by the time Sunday night’s ‘Cup’ race ends, he’ll have spent more than 10 hours in the cockpit over four days, but he’s certainly not complaining.
Speaking from his home in Montreal late on Thursday night, the former Formula One World Champion’s enthusiasm was clear, “it’s perfect. I’m really happy that NASCAR has given me its approval so quickly, and having run Talladega with the Cup drivers, I’m really looking forward to it. its a huge step in my learning process and I’m realistic in my expectations; every one of those guys s quick and the teams are a good too. NASCAR, and in particular ‘CoT’ has been fun so far, and I hope that doesn’t change in front of that big Talladega crowd!”
One man echoing Villeneuve’s enthusiasm was his Bill Davis Racing crew chief, Richard ‘Slugger’ Labbe, “It’s really neat that he’s been approved so quick. Jacques ran a lot of laps in the CoT test at Talladega he ran we in the draft he earned a lot of respect and he didn’t make anybody mad Im really excited to see new blood coming into the sport, and am glad to be part of it. Everybody at the shop is so fired up...we can’t wait to get to Talladega next week.”