|Jacques Villeneuve was the center of controversy|
Jacques Villeneuve played the villain’s role again Saturday, commanding the spotlight in yet another controversy filled weekend at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
The former CART and Formula One champion pumped up the volume before a single lap had been turned, criticizing Danica Patrick for her comments following a June 23 incident at Road America that saw him spin Patrick from behind while racing for fifth place.
“It's never her fault,” said Villeneuve, accusing Patrick of getting preferential treatment based solely on her gender. “If it hadn't been Danica, no one would have said anything. When Danica knocks out another driver, it's the fault of the driver who was knocked out. When a driver knocks out Danica, it's the other guy's fault.
“That's part of the game, I guess."
Villeneuve donned the black hat again in Saturday’s race, wrecking pole sitter and Canadian countryman Alex Tagliani out of the lead with just seven laps to go; a crash that relegated Tagliani to a bitterly disappointing, 22nd-place finish. In-car footage revealed that the former CART and Formula One champion never cracked the throttle, choosing instead to drive through Tagliani and take the lead.
The crash also resulted in the weekend’s most surreal moment, as Villeneuve was jeered lustily by fans at the track that bears his father’s name.
With Tagliani out of the way, Villeneuve led until the final lap before becoming embroiled in one final controversy. In an attempt to save fuel, Villeneuve appeared to slow his pace in the race’s final turns, allowing runner-up Justin Algaier to reach his rear bumper.
"He slowed way down and really babied it through (Turns) Three and Four, and then around the bend,” said Algaier. “We got down into Six and he under-braked by a lot. I was trying to brake as deep as I could, wheel-hopped a little bit and got into the back of him."
Algaier took the lead as Villeneuve pushed wide in the final turn, claiming the checkered flag and triggering another round of uncomplimentary, post-race commentary.
|Tagliani (30) and Villeneuve (22) tangled|
"It was very frustrating, because Dodge and Penske gave me a car that was unbeatable today,” said Villeneuve. “But I guess Justin Allgaier decided he had to win, and the only way he could do that was to take me out, which was really frustrating.”
“I know the 30 (Tagliani) got taken out by (Villleneuve),” said Allgaier in Victory Lane. “At the end of the day, what goes around comes around."
There is no questioning Villeneuve’s talent at the wheel of a race car. The Quebec native won the 1995 CART Championship, the 1995 Indianapolis 500 and the 1997 Formula One World Driving Championship, joining legends Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi has the only men to achieve all three milestones.
Unfortunately, he may not have what it takes to succeed in NASCAR.
His brief Nationwide Series career has been littered with on-track incidents, leading many to question his level of respect for both the series and its competitors. Like Allgaier on the final lap Saturday, many of Villeneuve’s fellow drivers have determined it’s best to deal with the Canadian ace quickly and without conscience, before he does the same to them.
The jury remains out on Jacques Villeneuve’s NASCAR career. But the evidence is beginning to mount.
Photos: The Cahier Archive, NASCARMedia.com