By Mike Mulhern
KANSAS CITY, Kansas
Jacques Villeneuve, the Formula One star planning to make the jump into NASCAR, with Bill Davis’ Toyota operation in High Point, N.C., surprised everyone here yesterday by announcing he would be making his Nextel Cup debut next week at Talladega—barely three weeks after making his first runs in a NASCAR stocker.
Villeneuve, the 1997 World Champion and a former Indy 500 winner too, has been planning a move to NASCAR for more than a year now, since his Formula One career ended. But the 36-year-old Canadian had been expected to ease into this sport, by running next week’s ARCA race at Talladega. But apparently Villeneuve’s 21st place run in his NASCAR debut in last week’s Las Vegas Truck race and his performance in the massive car-of-tomorrow test at Talladega have served to convince NASCAR executives to let him jump straight to the big leagues.
His first Cup start was expected to have been at Homestead, Fla., in November.
Villeneuve is also planning to run next weekend’s Truck race at Talladega too.
The response from veteran Cup drivers is yet to be gauged.
Villeneuve, at home in Montreal this weekend, issued a press release on the issue: “It’s perfect. I’m really happy that NASCAR has given me its approval so quickly, and having run Talladega with the Cup drivers (in testing three weeks ago), I’m really looking forward to it.
“It’s a huge step in my learning process, and I’m realistic in my expectations.”