A little article on Jacques Villeneuve heading to NASCAR via the Truck Series. Seems the author is one of those who believes that NASCAR is home to "the 43 Greatest Drivers in the World".
I sent him my thoughts, pointing out that I had not seen any of those 43 moving up to either Formula One, IRL, Champ Car or any other series for that matter. The only drivers on the NASCAR circuit that have done both IRL and NASCAR seem to also be considered the top of the NASCAR series. Wonder what that says.
Anyway, thought you might find this interesting.
They'll come to NASCAR, but only as a final option
By David Caraviello, NASCAR.COM
August 29, 2007
10:29 AM EDT
The first time Jacques Villeneuve considered NASCAR as a career option was in 2004, when he missed all but the final three races of the Formula One season after his British American Racing team opted to not renew his contract. But the former world champion was never really serious about competing in full-bodied cars on oval tracks, so when the chance came to return to F1 -- even with an also-ran like Sauber -- he took it.
Too bad. Because it would have been nice to have seen something of the old Villeneuve, the dashing French-Canadian who once stormed from two laps down to win the Indianapolis 500, in NASCAR. The one who will drive Craftsman Trucks the remainder of this season for Bill Davis Racing has been beaten down and spit out by the most bloodthirsty form of motorsports on the planet, and gives the distinct impression that he's latching onto NASCAR because his options have dried up everywhere else.
Since when did NASCAR become the golden parachute for fading open-wheelers trying to revive their careers? It's a no-lose proposition for the sanctioning body, which gets to hold up these guys as prime examples of how everyone wants a piece of Nextel Cup, and add names already familiar to a potential international audience. But if these drivers are so thrilled with the prospect of driving stock cars, why didn't they do like Juan Montoya and A.J. Allmendinger did, and like Sam Hornish might do, and make the move in their prime? Why weren't they willing to trade the champagne of Monaco and Long Beach for the fried bologna sandwiches of Martinsville before it began to smell of desperation?
Because they didn't have to. Paul Tracy, smart enough to realize that he's closer to the end of his Champ Car career than the beginning, gave the Busch circuit a try but washed out after six finishes of 24th or worse. Patrick Carpentier, out of Champ Car since 2004, began trying to break into NASCAR after he found that selling real estate in Las Vegas and racing sports cars on a part-time basis didn't satisfy his competitive urge. Scott Speed, recently fired from an F1 team owned by Red Bull -- the same Austrian energy drink empire that fields a Toyota-backed Nextel Cup entry -- may resurface in NASCAR in 2008.
And now there's Villeneuve, the best driver in the world a decade ago, who apart from the 24 Hours of Le Mans hasn't raced regularly on an international stage since crashing out of F1's German Grand Prix in 2006. Now, he's suddenly the leading contender to pilot Davis' No. 36 car on the Sprint Cup tour next year. All these drivers seem to have the best of intentions. They say the right things. They're obviously able to find car owners and sponsors willing to give them a chance. So why are they turning to the world's foremost stock-car circuit only when their other opportunities are drying up? Yes, they're all coming to NASCAR, and that clearly says something about the position this once-provincial series holds within the global racing landscape. But look where they're coming from.
"After Formula One, when you want to carry on racing, you want it to be at a top level," Villeneuve said Tuesday. "And in North America, that top level is NASCAR."
That was supposed to be a compliment. Instead it makes NASCAR's premier level look like some international version of the Craftsman Truck tour, a haven for veteran drivers who for one reason or another have seen their run in the big show come to an end. After years of racing with on-board telemetry and on road courses, those simpler cars and simpler tracks must be too hard to resist. Yet it takes only one look at Allmendinger, a Champ Car title contender last year now hopelessly overmatched as a Nextel Cup rookie, to realize that it's much, much difficult than it seems. NASCAR is anything but a series of last resort.
But they'll try anyway, giving NASCAR something to brag about, and giving car owners who have slashed driver development budgets another excuse to avoid cultivating their own talent, like they do in the open-wheel ranks. At least Richard Childress Racing made overtures to the reigning Indy 500 champion when it held preliminary talks with Dario Franchitti about piloting a fourth RCR car for next season. The Scotsman, according to reports, seems unlikely to make the move.
But give him some time. One day his open-wheel ride will dry up, his options will dwindle, and he'll be begging to get into NASCAR. Just like everyone else.