Villeneuve scores strongest NASCAR finish to date, could have been even better
Having been taken out of his last two NASCAR Craftsman Truck races by other drivers, Jacques Villeneuve completed the full 130 lap race distance in Atlanta on Saturday, finishing in 14th position, in the `EasyCare Vehicle Service Contracts 200'. The race was won by Nextel Cup front-runner, Kyle Busch and Villeneuve again finished on the lead lap, although having broken into the top 10, he was left a little frustrated not to claim a higher finishing position. The result was his strongest to date inside NASCAR.
Villeneuve qualified his UNICEF Toyota Tundra truck 17th fastest of 36 trucks, just two places behind NASCAR veteran, Mark Martin. Bill Davis team-mates Mike Skinner, and Johnny Benson qualified 2nd and 8th respectively for Saturday afternoon's race, which was run under hot, sunny conditions.
Starting on the seventh row, Villeneuve duked it out for track position throughout the race, comfortable running at speed in the pack. Along with some great work by his pit crew, he climbed as high as 9th during the race, and looked good for a first top 10 finish, a week after being taken out of the race in Martinsville with what everybody believed to be a `top 10 package'. The 36-year-old Canadian, who won the Formula One driver's world championship exactly ten years ago the Canadian media networks were re-living the anniversary of what most see as his greatest racing success to date while he was in Atlanta struggled to find anything like the same pace that he'd enjoyed in qualifying. His problem was that his truck was difficult to control on the higher banks, and on two of the restarts, where his only option was to run high around the other trucks, or risk critical loss of momentum, he was forced high, losing out as a result. He lost four of those places, from 9th through 13th in the restarts, an area which he and his team will continue to focus on.
Speaking immediately after the race, Villeneuve outlined the positives and negatives of his weekend in Atlanta, "Well, I have to be quite happy. My primary objective was to finish this race...to add track time, which I did. After the problems in Talladega and Martinsville, it was good to make it to the chequer. I also finished on the lead lap again, which is a big positive with so many variables in these long races, and I thank my team for all their help in that process, but I am disappointed not to finish higher. The truck didn't feel as good as it had in qualifying, and it didn't seem to matter what we did to change it, the front of the truck kept running out towards the wall when tried to run high. That caused me a few problems, but it's what we had, and we did our best with it. I'm still learning this entire package, and sometimes, I'm not yet as confident as I want to be in deciding which changes we need to make. It will get better with time, and I will continue to focus on what I can be doing better."
Villeneuve's spotter for the race was occasional crew chief and spotter, Richard `Slugger' Labbe. Openly disappointed after the race, Labbe commented, "All in all, 'JV' did a phenomenal job. He was very strong. If it wasn't for losing those places on the five turns after the restarts, he'd have been right up there at the end."
Meanwhile, from trackside another NASCAR veteran, driver and team owner Michael Waltrip spoke highly of Villeneuve's driving, as part of the Speed Channel's telecast of the race, stating, "Jacques Villeneuve again drove well; he delivered. He didn't have the chance to deliver the end result in Martinsville because of other drivers, but here, he's done what he had to do. The more I see of him, the more I know that he'll do well in our sport."