Jun 21, 2013, 7:22 PM EST
A familiar face showed up Friday at Sonoma Raceway. Sure, he’s lost a bit of hair — not to mention it’s starting to get speckled with grey — but there’s no mistaking a guy who was once one of the best race car drivers in the world.
Remember Jacques Villeneuve? He won the last CART series championship in 1995 before the big split between CART and the upstart Indy Racing League the following year.
From there, Villeneuve went on to a fairly successful Formula One career, winning 11 of 163 starts, with 13 poles and 23 podium appearances. He didn’t miss a beat after leaving CART, finishing second in his first F1 season in 1996 and then winning the championship in 1997.
But since his last year in F1 in 2006 — he only made two-thirds of the 18 races on the schedule — the Montreal native and son of the late Canadian racing legend Gilles Villeneuve has been bopping around as a part-time NASCAR driver, primarily in the Nationwide Series (NNS).
Not so this weekend, though. Even though the NNS races Saturday at Road America, Villeneuve will attempt to qualify the James Finch-owned No. 51 Chevrolet for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway. It will be the first time he’s ever competed on the 1.99-mile road course.
“We wanted to put a driver in our car who would give us the best chance to win at Sonoma,” Finch told ESPN.com. “When the opportunity came up to have someone like Jacques in our car, we were very happy to make that happen. It’s a long way out there [to California] to not be competitive. He gives us the chance to not only do really well but to actually win the race. We led laps there last year and almost did win it (Kurt Busch drove the car in last year’s race and finished third). We plan on getting the trophy this time.”
While Villeneuve hasn’t raced a Sprint Cup car since 2010 (finished 29th in the Brickyard 400), Villeneuve could pose a big threat to the Sprint Cup regulars on Sunday if he makes it through Saturday’s qualifying.
You see, road courses are Villeneuve’s bread and butter. No matter what series or sanctioning body, he’s almost always in his element when he gets to turn left — and right. He also has been known for not being shy when it comes to trading paint and banging fenders.
For example: In nine career NNS races, Villeneuve hasn’t won, but he’s come darn close to it, with three top-five and two other top-10 finishes, including finishes of sixth (Road America) and Montreal (third) last season.
Villeneuve was hailed as a great addition to the Sprint Cup world when it was announced he would join several other world-class drivers as full-time competitors in the series in 2008, including Scotsman Dario Franchitti and Canadian Patrick Carpentier, while Australian Marcos Ambrose competed full-time in the Nationwide Series. Juan Pablo Montoya had joined the series full-time a season earlier, essentially blazing the trail for the imports.
Unfortunately, Villeneuve’s career ended before it even had a chance to start, as promised funding for a full-time ride with Bill Davis evaporated along with his ride before the season even started. Franchitti and Carpentier didn’t last the season, either. Only Ambrose has emerged as the lone survivor of the foreign onslaught, in addition to the trailblazing Montoya.
It’s too bad, because Villeneuve likely could have done well if he had sponsorship and the right team.
Still, it’s good to see him back in his first Cup race in three seasons. Even though he’s now 42, Villeneuve still has a lot of racing left in him. Who knows, maybe this could be a sign of things to come — and maybe a second chance that he so deserves.
Dec 10, 2013, 8:17 PM EST
Former Red Bull Racing Formula One driver Mark Webber has closed out Porsche’s testing program for 2013 on its new LMP1 car that will debut next year in the World Endurance Championship. Webber, who announced his move to the WEC this past summer and closed out his F1 career with a runner-up in Brazil last…
Dec 10, 2013, 6:00 PM EST
Preliminary plans from Hulman & Co. to invest state funds into upgrades for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have been approved by the Indiana Motorsports Commission. The ambitious plans focus on three areas: track modifications, fan experience and technology. In regards to the track, upgrades identified include the installation of an apron for use in the…
Dec 10, 2013, 5:00 PM EST
IMSA and officials at Sebring International Raceway have confirmed Open Test dates in February for both the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge. Both series will have morning and afternoon test sessions on both Thurs., Feb. 20, 2014 and Fri., Feb. 21, 2014 to prepare for the Mobil 1 12 Hours…
Dec 10, 2013, 4:05 PM EST
Darrell Wallace Jr., who became the first African-American driver to win a NASCAR national series race in almost 50 years this past October at Martinsville Speedway, is set to return to the Camping World Truck Series is 2014. Fox Sports’ Ray Dunlap said via Twitter this morning that Wallace will once again drive for Kyle…
Dec 10, 2013, 2:35 PM EST
In an interview with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, former Sprint Cup team owner James Finch (pictured, left, from 2009) announced his intentions to field a car for the 2014 Daytona 500. Finch sold Phoenix Racing in August to Harry Scott, Jr., a co-owner of NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series outfit Turner Scott Motorsports. But…
Dec 10, 2013, 2:00 PM EST
We ordinarily don’t touch too much on the automotive sector here on MotorSportsTalk, but two big pieces of news regarding General Motors have just come down in the last 24-plus hours. Via CNBC, on Monday the U.S. Treasury Department sold its final shares, and announced it had recovered $39 billion of the $49.5 billion it…
Dec 10, 2013, 1:30 PM EST
After talking about the big stories and ranking our Top 10 drivers from the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, my colleague Tony DiZinno and I are taking a look back on how each of the 13 Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders fared this past year. Rounding out the 2013 Chasers in 13th place…
Dec 10, 2013, 1:15 PM EST
After a successful 2013 in both IndyCars and sports cars, British driver Mike Conway is looking forward to getting 2014 underway in earnest with a test session next week at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway for Ed Carpenter Racing. Conway, who won Detroit Race 1 for Dale Coyne Racing and also claimed four race wins with…
Dec 10, 2013, 1:00 PM EST
After talking about the big stories and ranking our Top 10 drivers from the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, my colleague Tony DiZinno and I are taking a look back on how each of the 13 Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders fared this past year. Collecting two wins this season but finishing 12th…
Dec 10, 2013, 12:30 PM EST
After talking about the big stories and ranking our Top 10 drivers from the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, my colleague Tony DiZinno and I are taking a look back on how each of the 13 Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders fared this past year. In his final year with Stewart-Haas Racing, Ryan…
Dec 10, 2013, 12:00 PM EST
After talking about the big stories and ranking our Top 10 drivers from the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, my colleague Tony DiZinno and I are taking a look back on how each of the 13 Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders fared this past year. Finishing 10th in the standings with the Colorado-based…
Dec 10, 2013, 11:43 AM EST
Sebastian Vettel has spoken up on the FIA’s idea of double points for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. And he’s not a fan. “This is absurd and punishes those who have worked hard for a whole season,” Vettel told the German newspaper Bild. ”You can hardly imagine that on the last match of the Bundesliga season, (soccer)…
Dec 10, 2013, 11:10 AM EST
It’s obvious Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing’s dominance of Formula One over the last few years has now triggered the FIA to make some changes. While most F1 fans can agree changes are needed, it’s the kind of changes being implemented that are rather stupefying at first read-through. With history as a guide, we…
Dec 10, 2013, 10:12 AM EST
Juan Pablo Montoya. In a Team Penske IndyCar. At Phoenix International Raceway. This is as close to a stocking stuffer as could be possible for IndyCar fans this time of year, especially considering that the series itself won’t be racing at the flat, challenging 1-mile oval anytime soon. But Montoya’s testing there today, in what…
Dec 10, 2013, 10:01 AM EST
Yesterday, the FIA announced a raft of rule changes that ran the gamut from double points being offered for the season finale in Abu Dhabi, permanent numbers for drivers, a yet-undetermined number for a cost cap for 2015, and five-second penalties being introduced. When we asked for your thoughts on Twitter, you responded in great…
Dec 10, 2013, 9:32 AM EST
The idea of imposing a two-stop requirement for Formula One in 2014, mooted last week, appears to be just that: an idea that won’t be implemented. Autosport reported Tuesday that teams are outright rejecting the proposal. It would have needed unanimous support from the 11 teams to be implemented this late in the year. Implementing…
Dec 9, 2013, 8:00 PM EST
Michael Shank Racing has confirmed that John Pew and Ozz Negri will be back with the team for the 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, co-driving the No. 60 MSR Ford Ecoboost/Riley. Pew finished 14th in last year’s GRAND-AM Rolex Series championship, while Negri finished 17th despite missing several races due to a setback in his…
Dec 9, 2013, 7:00 PM EST
Audi has already banked wins in the 24-hour races at Daytona and Le Mans this year, and also in the 12 Hours of Sebring in March. Now, the manufacturer can add a 25-hour race win to its mantle … even though Thunderhill is basically a NASA club race in December. Still, a win’s a win,…
Dec 9, 2013, 6:46 PM EST
Two of NASCAR’s rising stars were at the center of a major issue during Sunday’s Snowball Derby short-track race in Pensacola, Florida. Chase Elliott, the son of former Sprint Cup champion Bill Elliott and a part-timer in the Camping World Truck Series, appeared to have won the prestigious Super Late Model race as he crossed…
Dec 9, 2013, 5:10 PM EST
After an arduous 2013 season, it appears Formula One tire manufacturer Pirelli will have ample opportunity to get it right for 2014. As part of the FIA’s raft of regulation changes issued today, Pirelli was given the green light to stage a three-day test session next week at the Bahrain International Circuit. All F1 teams…
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