Villeneuve follows fellow open-wheel racers to NASCAR
Other team's success in bringing open wheel drivers to NASCAR and Bill Davis Racing's track record in bold gambles make the hiring of Jacques Villeneuve a risk well worth taking.
NASCAR team owner Bill Davis dug deeply into the bag of famous sports figures whose surname begins with V last week, signing a driver whose last name isn't Valenzuela, Villegas or even Van Arsdale. And if you have a hard time spelling the name, it goes like this: V-I-L-L-E-N-E-U-V-E. Jacques Villeneuve, that is.
It's safe to say that Open Wheel Madness has cloaked NASCAR in a big way. Thanks to unprecedented success and championship performances courtesy of Tony Stewart, plus wins from drivers like Juan Pablo Montoya, Kasey Kahne, Casey Mears, Ryan Newman and Robby Gordon, a team owner such as Davis is willing to take a chance on a prominent driver from another form of racing.
Even Ginn Motorsports ventured into the fray before merging with Dale Earnhardt, Inc., inking 18-time motocross champion Ricky Carmichael. The 27-year-old Clearwater, Fla., native is being tutored by Mark Martin and can be seen occasionally at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway, but his learning curve so far in late models has been as steep as Bristol's high banks.
Villeneuve, a former Formula 1 world champion and 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner, tested a truck with Bill Davis Racing driver Mike Skinner earlier this week. In shaking down their Toyota Tundras at Chicagoland Speedway, the pair turned laps in the 31-second range, and Villeneuve, 36, ran times slightly slower but close to Skinner's.
But this is a huge gamble by BDR, signing a driver who hasn't competed on an oval since 1995 and will attempt to resharpen his skills in the trucks for the remainder of the year, beginning at Las Vegas on Sept. 22, possibly with the chance of making his Cup debut at the end of the season.
BDR took a chance on a driver from the USAC series in the early 1990s, a guy who went on to win four Cup titles -- Jeff Gordon. Since that time, BDR has won the Daytona 500 and Southern 500, but this will be the organization's biggest gamble to date, maybe even greater than switching to Toyota.
A gamble that Davis hopes will lead to another V word: Victories.
ESPN TOP HEADLINES
- Blount: Happy release led to return to Pats
- Sources: Pats' Gray late, doesn't practice
- Raiders' Woodson on celebration: 'Ridiculous'
- Miss. St. suspends safety Cox after arrest