Villeneuve's impresses NASCAR's toughest critics at Martinsville Jacques Villeneuve's latest NASCAR performance delivered praise from all corners, in what was his strongest NASCAR race to date. Taken out of the race with 43 laps remaining, ...
Villeneuve's impresses NASCAR's toughest critics at Martinsville
Jacques Villeneuve's latest NASCAR performance delivered praise from all corners, in what was his strongest NASCAR race to date. Taken out of the race with 43 laps remaining, Villeneuve was classified 31st , but the real story was that he ran fast and clean to gain 15 places on a track where every inch of asphalt had a race truck on it fighting for position.
Saturday's `Kroger 200' Craftsman Truck Series race, at the half-mile Martinsville track in Virginia, promised to deliver carnage, and Villeneuve knew that as the new kid on the block, he may well find himself subjected to a tougher time than most. Before being forced into the infield safer barrier and out of the race, the Montreal-based, former F1 World Champion made another strong statement of intent, ahead of a full season inside NASCAR's premier `Sprint Cup' in 2008.
Villeneuve qualified cautiously, and lined-up 27th for the 200 lap race his first time to qualify outside the Top 10 in NASCAR then proceeded to settle into a race pace that saw him pick-off as th many as a fifteen other trucks in his charge to the front of the field. Climbing to 12 position, Villeneuve was focused on gaining on those trucks in front of him, whilst behind him, Jason Leffler and 2007 season Nextel Cup contender, Clint Bowyer had become engaged in an intense physical battle, which even saw the pair deliberately drive into each other twice whilst the pack was under one of many caution periods. When the pack bunched-up under a restart on lap 143, Villeneuve became involved in that same physical battle, with Leffler sending him sideways from behind, before Bowyer collected the 36-year old Villeneuve, spinning him headlong into the barriers before he had recovered from Leffler's hit.
Damage to Villeneuve's UNICEF Toyota Tundra over a foot shorter in length than it had started the race - prevented him from restarting, and his race was over. Back in the garage area, Villeneuve, who was uninjured in the accident, was naturally disappointed to lose out on what looked likely to be a top ten finish, on one of NASCAR's toughest tracks, but he was again happy to have had the chance to gain all-important mileage and experience, saying, "It was a great race and I was having a lot of fun today. My UNICEF truck was handling really well, and the team did a great job. At this stage, we continue to focus on learning, on gaining track time rather than results, although today was a day when we could have had a strong finish. It's my first short-track race, but it reminds me a little of a road course because you can race hard and use the brakes a lot. It was quite interesting."
From trackside, many of NASCAR's biggest names were watching Villeneuve's Martinsville debut with interest, and post-race, the NASCAR rookie had gained the respect and praise of one and all. Best positioned to offer an insight into Villeneuve's performance was his crew chief and spotter, Richard `Slugger' Labbe who said, "He did a great job. He learned more of how it is that there's no give and take. He gave out his fair share and passed guys on the inside, outbroke `em. Not many guys passed him and he understands that he can do a lot himself with the way the truck or car is driving; so every lap we have him in a race condition is beneficial. He got up to 12th and kept his nose clean, then a couple of Nextel Cup drivers just ganged up on him getting into turn 3. They started on entry and finished him off on the straightaway. He just got the bad end of the deal."
The race was won by Villeneuve's Bill Davis Racing team-mate, former series champion, Mike Skinner who regained the series lead, and in the process, secured the Craftsman Truck Series' manufacturers award for Toyota. Skinner was also impressed by Villeneuve, and summarised his perceptions from a driver's perspective, in saying, "These cars are heavy, they don't stop, they won't turn and they want to spin the tires when you hit the gas. It would probably be easier for Jeff Gordon to go and drive a Formula One car than it is for Jacques to come in and drive a NASCAR, but he's proving he can do it."
The next stage in Villeneuve's NASCAR development program takes him to the high-banked quad- oval at Atlanta Motor Speedway, next weekend.