Villeneuve Shifts Gear for Nascar

By: Anthony Fontanelle

Formula One luminary and 1997 World Champ Jacques Villeneuve shifts gear to drive for NASCAR's Bill Davis Racing team. His transition from F1 to Craftsman Truck Series is expected to be smooth with the help from colleagues like Juan Pablo Montoya, also a former F1 star.

"I'm sure there's politics everywhere," Villeneuve told Journal Now. "But it was hard to beat the high level of politics of Formula One. It's extremely high, and most of the time it overshadows the sport. This is a shame. As long as you're winning, it's great. But as soon as you're not winning, then the politics take over, and it does make racing not fun at all. So listening to what Juan Pablo is saying, it sounds like NASCAR is where racing should be."

After a couple of days testing at Chicagoland Speedway, Villeneuve called it all "very exciting, because it's very different than anything I've done before." He also adds, "When I was talking with other European drivers in F1, they were dumbfounded when I was telling them about ovals. They would call me mad wanting to drive ovals."

Villeneuve, 36, said that he has been looking at NASCAR since around 2004, "when I took a year off from F1. But at the time I knew I wanted to go back to F1, so I didn't look at it that seriously. But I need to do something in racing at an extremely high level, which NASCAR is... but something different. And it sounded like a great challenge. I really wanted to get into it. NASCAR is becoming stronger and stronger every year (in appeal). It's getting everybody's attention, even internationally."

The transition arrives in high-speed. "It happened really fast, this contact with Bill Davis," Villeneuve said. "Everybody seems to be excited and open minded and wants to give it a go. So it happened really fast. Just had to fly in, make a seat and come testing. Why Bill Davis? Look at Truck racing - they're leading the championship. So that is the best place to start to get mileage and to get used to running at those speeds in traffic."

Mike Mulhern, a Journal reporter, wrote that Montoya's aggressiveness has been an issue, though perhaps only because he is now a threat to win, since whipping the field at Sonoma. Asked about his take, Villeneuve responded: "Apparently no matter what you're driving, nobody likes the new boy," he said. "Any time anybody got into F1, we didn't like it, and we made their life hard. But he was like that in Formula One, extremely aggressive. And got on people's nerves. I guess he's kept the same personality in NASCAR. Once he settles in, it will be all right."

"He's driving hard, he's fast, and he's making a name for himself. Now he's earning respect, so that's fine. But I've never been as aggressive as him, I would say. At the same time, NASCAR is a different ballgame. So if and when I get in there, I'll figure it out," he added.

Monday's test session at Chicagoland Speedway, as reported by NASCAR's Official Web site, was an eye-opener for the veteran Davis crew chief Slugger Labbe. "He's not intimidated by nothing and he adapted really well, real quick - and he understands it. We haven't done important things like running in traffic and doing pit stops, but right now, he's pretty impressive," Labbe noted.

Watchers in the industry are looking forward to see Villenueve compete with the teams sponsored by manufacturers of the , Dodge radiators, and Ford engines.

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