FORT WORTH, Texas (October 29, 2007) -- Jacque Villeneuve has conquered the road courses in Formula One, tamed the street/road circuits and ovals of the CART circuit and has sipped the milk in Victory Lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but now...
FORT WORTH, Texas (October 29, 2007) -- Jacque Villeneuve has conquered the road courses in Formula One, tamed the street/road circuits and ovals of the CART circuit and has sipped the milk in Victory Lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but now the F1,CART and Indy 500 champion has another major challenge at hand.
Villeneuve is looking to find success in the third major racing series of his outstanding career as he signed with Bill Davis Racing late this summer. His preparation for the full NASCAR NEXTEL Cup schedule in 2008 is in full swing as he is running the final six races of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series schedule this season, including Friday evening's Silverado 350k at Texas Motor Speedway.
While the transition from one openwheel series to another was somewhat seamless for Villeneuve in 1996, the move from the F1 high-tech machines to NASCAR will be dramatic. But the 11-year F1 veteran from Canada is enjoying every minute of it.
"It's much more relaxed than F1 and I am enjoying meeting the fans.Yes, it's very different than what I've come from, but I realize that learning can be fun too," said Villeneuve, who won the 1997 Formula One championship. "I'm working with some great people and we are making progress, and as soon as I've been out of the car for a day or so I find myself missing it - wanting to be out there on the track, which I never felt with F1 to be honest."
The adjustment to the NASCAR ranks has not only focused on the vast difference in equipment, but the different ways in which driver and crew chief communicate. It is not that he speaks French on the radio, but that race terminology from his open-wheel days doesn't translate to the NASCAR side, he said. Despite the learning curve,Villeneuve has been impressive in his four Truck Series starts as well as his NEXTEL Cup debut.With mounting pressure from competitors for making his Cup debut at the demanding,high-banked Talladega Superspeedway,he proved to everyone that he could control a stock car as he qualified sixth and finished a respectable 21st.
His recent trip to the high-banked, 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway provided him with a good reference point for what he will experience when he hits the track this weekend at "The Great American Speedway!" He wants to hold the Beretta pistols and wear the Charlie 1 Horse hat at the end of the night signifying victory, but he understands that the emphasis is on learning. Having wrecked in two of his first four NCTS appearances, he understands that the more left turns he makes the more it will help his learning curve.
"I've said it before, but I'll be focusing on maximizing track time and race mileage, learning with every lap,"Villeneuve said."The UNICEF Tundra is strong, so I hope we can be fast again - that's always my aim."
Too Close To Call
The nine-point lead between Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson isn't even the closest points battle in NASCAR's top three series.The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship standings are only separated by four points heading into the Silverado 350k. Ron Hornaday Jr. has the scant advantage over Mike Skinner, making it the second closest NCTS points battle with three races to go.The two veterans have swapped the points lead in each of the last five races and have been separated by no more than 29 points during that span.
"This is what NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series racing is all about, just having fun and hard racing," Hornaday said. "To have two great teams battling and changing the points lead each week is unbelievable. I am so proud of my guys." The past performances by each driver at Texas indicate that the points lead may get even tighter by the end of the night. Skinner has five top-five finishes in seven races and has led 412 laps, the most by a NCTS driver.Hornaday has fared just as well with six top- 10 finishes and 218 laps led.However, both drivers are still searching for that elusive win at Texas Motor Speedway.
With the success both drivers have had at "The Great American Speedway!" predicting how things could shake out Friday night is impossible.
"You never know," Hornaday Jr. said. "It just shows how tough both teams are.We've got to make sure we don't get beat in the pits and make sure we bring the same truck and run as hard as we did there last time we were at Texas. It's a fun track and everything is huge in Texas. It's going to be great to get back there and have fun."
Veterans Of Victory
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series veterans have found their way to the top of the points standings this year.While other series have seen younger drivers move up to the top of the standings, the long-tenured NCTS drivers have been dominant. Only one driver in his 20s, Erik Darnell, has visited Victory Lane this season.Fifty-year-old Mike Skinner has the most wins with five while 49-year-old Ron Hornaday Jr. has four, 44-year-old Johnny Benson has three and 43-year-old Todd Bodine has two.
The top 10 in the points are filled by seasoned NCTS drivers while the closest young gun is Darnell, who sits 11th in the points. Defending points champion Bodine said it just comes down to veterans having the luck this year.
"I don't know if it's the Truck Series, the way the trucks are or if it just shook out that the veterans are on top," Bodine said."We've got a lot of great rookies in this series and good young kids and a lot of veterans that have been in this series for a long time. It's just a matter of circumstance that it's ended up with the veterans and the experienced guys at the top." Texas Motor Speedway is a place where rookies can establish themselves. In the last 19 NCTS races at TMS,10 rookies have finished in the top five and Brendan Gaughan and Travis Kvapil earned a trip to Victory Lane in their first full season.
Todd Bodine tied Brendan Gaughan for most career NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series wins at Texas Motor Speedway (4) with his victory in June's Sam's Town 400 and now he is chasing another milestone established by Gaughan.
Bodine is eyeing a season sweep of the truck races at Texas, a feat that only has been accomplished by Gaughan in the 11-year history of Texas Motor Speedway. Gaughan did it twice, the first sweep coming in 2002 and then again in 2003.
Bodine should be in the mix as a favorite for the Silverado 350k considering his track record at Texas. He has posted four victories in six career truck starts, including the last two Silverado 350k events.
Bodine said his success goes back farther than just his six truck series starts at TMS. The Germain Racing driver also has had previous success in both Busch and Cup series races at Texas Motor Speedway. He led nine laps in the inaugural Cup race and has three top-five finishes in the Busch Series. While success seems to come naturally at TMS, Bodine finds it difficult to put a finger on the reason.
"I don't know how to explain my success at Texas Motor Speedway," he said."We've just been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and be able to take advantage of some situations. Texas is one of those tracks you really got to get on top of the wheel.There are just little things you've got to learn and stuff that scares other guys you've just got to drive through. It's really just having a comfort level with the track.We always look forward to going to Texas."
Wanted: Winner's Cowboy Hat
Mike Skinner has been dominant in pole qualifying for Craftsman Truck Series races at Texas Motor Speedway and enjoyed some dominating race runs, but neither has served as the impetus for his first victory. He has top-five finishes in his last five visits, including three runner-up performances. Skinner has been a rear bumper away from victory lane a number of times and getting that close has caused him pain and last year's Silverado 350k was no exception.
"I kind of felt like somebody robbed us of that cowboy hat a year ago," the 1995 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion said of eventual winner Clint Bowyer passing him for the lead."He did what he had to do. He won the race and I chose not to wreck him."
Skinner said he is eager to add a Charlie 1 Horse cowboy hat to his collection of trophies and awards.The stats indicate that Skinner will be one of the favorites once again. He has led the most laps (419), has the most poles (4), top starting average (2.42) and top finishing average (5.00). He also was strong in June's Sam's Town 400, finishing runner-up to Todd Bodine.
"We love coming to Texas," Skinner said."We are going to come and do what we've been doing and hope like heck the results stay somewhere near where they've been."
Playing Cowboys... Rangers
Dallas Cowboys All-Pro cornerback Terence Newman and Texas Rangers pitching ace Kevin Millwood will play the key dignitary roles in the Silverado 350k. Newman, a frequent race visitor to Texas Motor Speedway who also has participated in the Team Texas Driving Experience, will serve as the honorary starter and get to wave the green flag from the starter's stand to kick off the Silverado 350k. Millwood will precede Newman with his role as Grand Marshal by giving the command of "Gentlemen, Start Your Engines" to the Silverado 350k field.
Last Lap . . .
Veterans Terry Cook and Rick Crawford are the only two drivers to compete in every Craftsman Truck Series race held in the 11-year history of Texas Motor Speedway. Both will be looking to make their 20th career start at Texas in the Silverado 350k and the duo is still chasing their first win at "The Great American Speedway!" ... Leading the most laps doesn't always guarantee a trip to Victory Lane. In the last 10 NCTS races at Texas Motor Speedway, only three times has the driver that led the most laps won the race. . . . The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will stage its 20th race at Texas Motor Speedway, the longest tenured track on the schedule. ... If the last three NCTS races at Texas are any indication of what is in store for Friday evening, the drama will be prominent in the final laps.The last three races have concluded with a green/white, checkered finish, which is a two-lap shootout following a caution in the closing laps to ensure a green-flag finish....Texas native David Starr is looking to lead his first laps of the season this week at his home track. ... The last two NCTS winners at Texas Motor Speedway have won from the pole.