Jacques Villeneuve will try to kick-start his stalled attempt at breaking into NASCAR this weekend. The former F1 world champion, CART champion and Indy 500 winner hasn’t raced in NASCAR since crashing-out of the Daytona 500 in February, but Jacques returns to stock car racing this weekend at the wheel of a Braun Racing Toyota which he will race in the second division NASCAR Nationwide race at le Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal on Saturday afternoon.
These days, Jacques lives in Montreal and he knows the track intimately. It’s the perfect venue for him to try to make amends for the crash-filled start to his NASCAR career in a handful of races at the end of last season and at Daytona in February of this year. Since his rough initiation with Bill Davis Racing’s Toyotas, Villeneuve has been searching for the sponsorship to re-ignite his NASCAR aspirations and he’s pulled together some local backing for Saturday’s 200-mile Nationwide race in Montreal.
Todd Braun’s team has raced in NASCAR’s second division for six years and won a handful of races, but none this year. The team runs two cars, the first driven by Jason Leffler and the second by a variety of drivers. Villeneuve will drive the team’s second No 32 Toyota this weekend.
Toyotas have won fourteen of the twenty-two Nationwide races run so far this year, giving Villeneuve reason for hope. But all of those victories have been scored by Joe Gibbs Racing entries driven in the Nationwide series by the team’s first division Cup drivers – Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin. The dominance of the Gibbs’ Toyotas has resulted in NASCAR placing new restrictions on Toyota’s cylinder bore centres, but despite these limitations Busch was able to win the first Nationwide race run under the new rules at Indianapolis Raceway Park last weekend.
In last year’s Nationwide race in Montreal, Villeneuve’s countryman Patrick Carpentier put on a great show, fighting for the lead and eventually earning a full-time, first division Cup ride for this year with Gillett Evernham Racing. So it will be interesting to see if Villeneuve will be able to use the same combination of local circuit knowledge and road racing ability to run up front this weekend and attract some interest from NASCAR’s top level team owners.
And of course, as both Carpentier and Juan Pablo Montoya have discovered, getting to the front of the NASCAR field and even winning on a road circuit is one thing. But forging your way to the front on an oval and figuring out how to stay there is something else again.
Meanwhile, we’ll at least see if Jacques can salvage his hopes for a career in NASCAR at his home track on Saturday.