|Villeneuve made no friends Saturday.|
Villeneuve’s racing resume is impeccable. The son of Formula One great Gilles Villeneuve, Jacques is himself a former F1 World Driving Champion, as well as the 1995 Indy Car World Series Champion and 1995 winner of the Indianapolis 500. Despite those lofty accomplishments, however, Villeneuve has failed to generate sustained interest in NASCAR. He has just three career starts in the headline Sprint Cup Series, with a top finish of 21st. More recently, he has made sporadic road course starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for Braun Racing (now Turner Motorsports) and Penske Racing, often contending for wins despite a series of late-race, banzai charges that have earned him the ire of his fellow competitors.
Villeneuve’s “bull in a china shop” reputation was reinforced again Saturday, when the Penske Racing driver turned point leader Elliott Sadler head-on into the wall with 11 laps remaining, then punted Danica Patrick out of fourth place on the final lap, leaving Patrick 12th at the drop of the checkered flag.
“I just saw it right there on the screen,” said a steaming Patrick after the race. “Y’all can make a decision for yourself what you think happened there.”
|Eury: "He's not a real race car driver..."|
Crew chief Tony Eury, Jr., was more outspoken, confronting Villeneuve after the race, calling the Canadian driver “an a—hole” and asking, “why do you have to come here and run over people?
Villeneuve blamed the incident on dirty tires, saying, “I wasn't fighting with Danica, I was fighting with Max Papis. Just before the braking, I guess he was wanting to cross over and go to the inside of Danica. He probably didn't know I was there, so it pushed me in the grass. You don't slow down that much in the grass, so by that time I was on the race track again, I was going a little bit faster than Danica. That's all."
"He doesn't have the respect for what his name should mean," said an angry Eury afterward. “With a name like that and the history his family has, for him to come here and not have any respect for anybody, he's not a real race car driver in my book.
"It's got nothing to do with (Danica)," Eury said. "Every time (Villeneuve) is behind you, you wonder if you're about to get run over. Today happened to be our day."
Saturday’s race marked the second consecutive controversial outing for Villeneuve at Road America. Last year, he finished third after overcharging Turn One on a late-race restart, putting all four wheels in the dirt in an ill-advised move that wrecked both Papis and Brian Scott. Many observers questioned then whether Villeneuve’s hunger for a full-time NASCAR ride had clouded his judgement. Saturday, other Nationwide Series drivers echoed Eury’s post-race comments, saying the former F1 champion takes unnecessary chances, pushes his equipment past its limits and lacks respect for his fellow drivers.
“He wants what he wants, and he doesn’t care how he gets it,” said one series regular, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “He’ll drive through the grass to gain a spot, then use you as a guardrail to make it through the corner. He has all the talent in the world, but nobody is comfortable racing with him.”
At age 41, time is running short for Villeneuve to make his mark as anything more than a spot-reliever in NASCAR. His talent is beyond dispute, but his lack of respect on the race course has made him a pariah among his fellow drivers.
“Where Jacques Villeneuve goes, there tend to be cars that have problems,” said Patrick Saturday. “Whether it's his fault, the other cars' fault or whether it's just stock car racing at the end of the race... you guys can make a decision on what happened there at the end."
Photo Credits: yallaf1.com, espn.com