Villeneuve and the Dollar General Team Finish Fourth in Watery Montreal Weekend MONTREAL, Canada (September 1, 2009) -- The NASCAR Nationwide Series headed north of the border this weekend to Montreal, Canada for Sunday's NAPA Auto Parts 200.
Villeneuve and the Dollar General Team Finish Fourth in Watery Montreal Weekend
MONTREAL, Canada (September 1, 2009) -- The NASCAR Nationwide Series headed north of the border this weekend to Montreal, Canada for Sunday's NAPA Auto Parts 200. Canadian Jacques Villeneuve returned to pilot the No. 32 Dollar General Toyota at the Quebec track. No stranger to road course racing, the former Formula One and CART champion drove the No. 32 Camry to a fourth-place finish in a wet and wild weekend at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
Saturday's forecast of showers had teams prepared for practicing in rain conditions. As a light drizzle began to fall, teams changed to rain tires and put windshield wipers on the cars. First practice was spent running laps on a track that was almost too dry for rain tires and too wet for slick tires, or the standard racing tires that are used on NASCAR's stock cars. Following practice, track officials began to dry the 2.709-mile track for final practice, in hopes of readying the track for teams to execute mock qualifying runs on regular tires. This effort took the duration of final practice and, as a result, the session was cancelled. As the time for qualifying approached, the rain began to fall again. Teams covered cars and began to pack up for the night, expecting NASCAR to set the field by owner's points. Instead, in a historic decision, NASCAR instructed teams to change back to rain conditions and to prepare for qualifying. Under a steady rain, Villeneuve turned a lap around the course in 123.725 seconds, placing the No. 32 in the sixth position to start the Sunday afternoon event.
Teams returned to the track on Sunday morning to much more favorable weather. The question would remain on everyone's minds as to how long the rain would stay away. Because the No. 09 team changed its engine prior to the start of the race, the No. 32 was moved up to the fourth position to start the 74-lap race. The sun was shining brightly as the field took the green flag.
The first caution of the afternoon came on lap 3 for fluid on the track. Villeneuve reported that the car felt a little loose in the turns. With the No. 5 car pitting to repair valence damage, Villeneuve started the No. 32 from the third position as the race resumed on lap 8.
Because the race conditions were so different from the practice and qualifying sessions in the rain, NASCAR scheduled a competition caution at lap 11. Crew chief, Trent Owens, instructed Villeneuve to come to pit road only if the leader, Marcos Ambrose, brought his No. 47 in for service. Both cars remained on the track. When green-flag racing continued on lap 14, Villeneuve was in the second position.
The yellow flag was displayed again on lap 17 when the No. 99 car came to a stop on the track. As the Dollar General Toyota slowed, Owens came on the radio and said, "Stay out. We need to get to lap 22 for our fuel window." With this pit strategy, the No. 32 could complete the race with only two visits to pit road. As the No. 47 and No. 20 cars came to pit road for service, Villeneuve assumed the lead spot. As it became apparent to Owens that the caution would extend into his projected fuel window, he called Villeneuve to pit road for service on lap 21. The Dollar General team quickly changed four tires, made an air pressure adjustment and packed the Camry with fuel. Villeneuve rejoined the field in the 34th position.
As the field slowed again for a caution flag on lap 23 for a multi-car accident in turns six and seven, Villeneuve came on the radio and reported on the car's handling following the first pit stop. "The tires feel soft in the rear with a full tank," he said.
Quickly following the restart, another accident in turns eight and nine collected multiple cars. Owens told Villeneuve that NASCAR was reporting rain about an hour away. When racing continued on lap 30, the No. 32 was in the 18th spot. Within the first green-flag lap, Villeneuve moved his Toyota back into the top-15.
Villeneuve reported to Owens that the brakes were starting to overheat as he worked his way around the course in the 11th position. "10-4," replied Owens. "Keep the brakes pumped. You should be fine now that you are in some open air." Three laps later, Owens reported to Villeneuve that he was running the same pace as the lead cars. On lap 42, the leaders began to make green-flag pit stops. Having been the last of the front-running cars to pit previously, the No. 32 moved up to the second spot. With the team poised for Villeneuve to come to pit road, the next caution of the day came when the No. 40 came to a stop on the track.
"Stay out, stay out," said Owens. "Don't pit."
"Is this caution a good thing for us?" asked Villeneuve. "No," replied Owens. "This is not what we needed." Owens had hoped to gain an advantage with well-timed pit stops; however, the large number of caution flags thwarted Owens' efforts at fuel strategy.
Owens called him to pit road on lap 50. The Dollar General crew flawlessly changed four tires, added fuel and removed a tear-off from the windshield. While over the wall, the team also pulled the left front fender out, repairing damage that was received during side-by-side racing.
"We are good on fuel until the end of the race," said Owens. The skies looked ominous as the bad weather continued to approach. The No. 32 Camry restarted from the 12th position on lap 52. Showcasing his driving skills, Villeneuve advanced the Dollar General Toyota into the eighth position in one lap of green-flag racing. On lap 53, the caution flag was displayed again because of the debris on the track that the No. 66 littered as he spun through the gravel pit in turn six.
With 18 laps remaining and the inclement weather now reportedly eight minutes away, the cars returned to green-flag racing. As rain started to fall, NASCAR displayed the caution flag on lap 59. Teams stood ready with rain tires and windshield wipers, waiting for NASCAR to make the decision to change the cars to rain conditions.
On lap 61, NASCAR called the teams to pit road, giving them five minutes to make the necessary adjustments for racing in the rain. Villeneuve brought the Dollar General Toyota to his team. Rain tires, the windshield wiper and rear brake light were put on the Camry. The team also adjusted the shocks for the new tire and wet conditions.
Cars returned to the track and prepared to compete in the rain for the second consecutive year at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. When the race restarted on lap 64, Villeneuve was in the 10th position.
The remaining ten laps of the race were littered with cautions. Villeneuve drove the No. 32 up to the fourth position when the final caution occurred on the last lap, setting the stage for a green-white-checkered finish. Villeneuve held the position, bringing the Dollar General team its seventh top-five finish of 2009.
"This was a wild and crazy race," said Villeneuve. "It's a good thing these cars are strong. I think it was a great show for the fans. There was everything today. We even had a wet race and a dry race. The last 10 laps, every restart we were all running into each other and there was a question of surviving. The Dollar General team did a great job and we were strong. The last four or five laps were tough because the rain tire was quite a soft tire. It had a lot of grip in the wet but on a drying track it made it move around a lot. But it also made it fun. I had a great time this weekend with the guys at Braun Racing."
Brian Vickers returns to the No. 32 Dollar General Toyota next weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway on the heels of his pole position and second-place finish at Michigan International Speedway.
Next Stop: The NASCAR Nationwide Series ventures heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway next weekend for the Degree V12 300.