Villeneuve goes back in time, returns to Phoenix, scene of his oval racing debut This weekend, Jacques Villeneuve will contest both NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series and Nextel Cup Series races at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR). It was at ...
Villeneuve goes back in time, returns to Phoenix, scene of his oval racing debut
This weekend, Jacques Villeneuve will contest both NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series and Nextel Cup Series races at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR). It was at Phoenix back in 1994, as a rookie in the IndyCar World Series that the Canadian made his oval racing debut, qualifying 1/1000 of a second off pole position. Villeneuve's best result at PIR, a year later, on his way to claiming the series crown, was 3rd position, so he has run well there previously. This is the only time during 2007 that Villeneuve will have the chance to race NASCAR on a track he's previously visited.
Tonight's `Arizona Casino 150' Craftsman Truck race will be Villeneuve's 7th of the season, and with increased confidence in his car, as well as what is going on around him, the former winner of the Indy 500 is determined to claim a top 10 finish. Fastest rookie in practice, this afternoon's qualifying which starts at 12:00 noon local time follows NASCAR's regular `fast as you can go for just two laps' format, and will determine where he lines up on the grid. The race starts at 8:00pm locally and allowing for caution periods, should finish before midnight.
Sunday's `Checker Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil', is Villeneuve's second Nextel Cup race of the year. One month ago the Montreal resident made his `Cup' debut at Talladega, qualifying 6th fastest of 49 drivers, before volunteering to drop back to last place at the race start, in order to allow those 12 drivers fighting for the series win a cleaner battle. Finishing on the lead lap in spite of his voluntary starting position, the NASCAR rookie impressed, but this weekend, the penultimate race of 2007, the battle for the Cup is a clear two-driver race, and Villeneuve will be less focussed on how he affects the mix throughout the race. Later this afternoon, between qualifying for NCTS, and the race itself, Villeneuve will attempt to qualify his UNICEF Toyota Tundra, car number 27, for Sunday's race. Qualifying for Cup starts at 5:30pm local time, and the race is at 3:00pm. NASCAR experts predict that Villeneuve could show his very best at PIR. Common belief is that the circuit characteristics as a short, flat track, where drivers are forced to brake hard before cornering, then accelerating hard off the apex of each turn will be much more user friendly for those drivers with road-course experience. Some have described it as `second nature' for Villeneuve, although the truth is that only time will tell, as he is still learning the many characteristics that are so unique to NASCAR.
Speaking trackside from his motorhome earlier this morning, the 36-year-old Villeneuve offered his own view on the weekend: "I've raced here before, a long time ago and have good memories. Yes, it's different in NASCAR, and even the car and the truck are totally different, but I think we have a good set-up for the truck, which will make a difference. For the Cup race, well, firstly I've got to qualify, and there are 13 other drivers in the same place as me, with that same goal, but I think we can run fast enough to get in. In terms of the racing, my restarts, which had been a bit inconsistent at times, have improved, and my race craft will get better every week, but I know that it's still early days. I'm learning so much every time I drive, and I'm enjoying the whole experience. Whether or not this track type suits me best as some people are saying, I'm not so sure, but I hope they're right! I'll tell you on Monday morning."