By Mike Mulhern
KANSAS CITY, Kansas
Jacques Villeneuve himself made the call to run Talladega next Sunday, Mike Brown, general manager for Bill Davis’ Toyota team, says.
The Villeneuve move puts him smack in the middle of this year’s Nextel Cup championship, at one of the tour’s trickiest tracks, and men like Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch have expressed sharp disapproval.
“We evaluated where we stood with him, after the Talladega car-of-tomorrow test, and after the Truck race (at Las Vegas), and he actually was the one who came to us and said ‘Hey, I’d like to run the Cup race at Talladega,’” Brown said.
“We expressed the same concerns that all the drivers had. But in restrictor plate racing, so far we’ve hardly run a plate race without a big wreck…and to my knowledge JV didn’t cause any of those.
“I could probably name 10 or 15 drivers in the field here today who need to take a good hard look at how they approach restrictor plate racing.
“Jacques is very aware of the points situation, and what we’re trying to accomplish. But at the same time we’re trying to grow our program and get him prepared for the Daytona 500. And that race is very important for the sponsors we’re talking to.
“NASCAR feels comfortable with it, Jacques feels comfortable with it. We’ll take it one lap at a time. But he’s fully aware of the situation.
“Some of the competition needs to realize there is no perfect way to run a restrictor plate race.”
The Villeneuve announcement was handled oddly Friday, in a one-page press release from a PR firm in England, while Davis himself was in Arkansas at a major cattle sale, and while Villeneuve was at home in Montreal.
“I understand, but it was something that came together quickly last week, after Jacques got time to evaluate where he was in the program, and what everybody wanted to do, and what we were able to do. In a perfect world we could have planned a better way to introduce it,” Brown said.
“Jacques tested with these guys at Talladega for two days. And he feels comfortable doing this. This isn’t something we pushed for. We were content to stick with our original schedule.
“But when a Formula One champion and Indy 500 champion says he’s ready, you’ve got to trust his instincts.”
Villeneuve will now skip the Talladega ARCA race. “But he’ll run the Truck race Saturday, and those Trucks are a lot like the cars-of-tomorrow,” Brown said.
After Talladega? “We’ll continue to run him in all the Truck races,” Brown said. “We have penciled in the Phoenix Cup race in November.
“And we’ll have him testing a lot too, the Atlanta car-of-tomorrow, and to Kentucky and Iowa, to further the learning curve.”