No, Jacques Villeneuve is not replacing Ralf Schumacher in Formula One next year at Toyota.
Instead Villeneuve will make the next move in his racing career, taking on NASCAR. THis week he will get his first taste of NASCAR by testing a Bill Davis Racing Toyota Tundra truck at Chicagoland Speedway.
Word is he will race in the last 7 truck series races of the year, and if things go well he may even make his Nextel Cup debut later in the year at the wheel of a Bill Davis Toyota, and could take over the #36 Camry next year full time in the Sprint Cup.
Bill Davis commented on NASCAR.com from Bristol that he will put Villeneuve in the final seven Craftsman Truck Series events this season, plus the ARCA event at Talladega Superspeedway — all in an attempt to prove to NASCAR officials that the former F1 star will be ready for a full-time Cup ride by 2008. But Davis didn’t rule out Villeneuve getting some seat time in a Cup car by the end of ’07.
“I don’t know. He’s going to do some Cup testing, some Car of Tomorrow testing, and maybe toward the end of the year we do run a Cup race,” Davis said. “We’ll just kind of see how things go.”
Asked why he was planning to start Villeneuve off in the Truck Series, Davis replied: “I think it’s just a good starting point. We’ve got a successful Truck program, and trucks that run up front and win races, and good teammates for him to pull from. It just makes sense. That’s something he could step into that’s working on a weekly basis, something that he can build his confidence in.”
Villeneuve is of course no stranger to oval racing, after spending a number of years racing on North American ovals, and winning the Indy 500. With those credentials he will fit right into NASCAR, just as Juan Pablo Montoya has done.
After the success of Juan Pablo Montoya coming to NASCAR this season Bill Davis signing Villeneuve makes a lot of sense. With the Car of Tomorrow becoming the only car raced next year, the learning curve will not be as great as it has been in the past. Sure the current drivers have this season to learn about the Car of Tomorrow, but that is nothing compared to the learning curve faced in the older style cars.
Also the signing of Villeneuve coincides with NASCAR’s move into Canada, and as we have seen in the past Villeneuve has an absolutely huge following in his native Canada, and NASCAR will love all those eyes on NASCAR programming at a time when ratings are slowly declining, and of course it’s a win win for Toyota. The only thing that has not been announced is how long time manager Craig Pollock will be involved. Expect some announcements soon, including maybe some sort of Pollock/Davis merger, after all I am sure Bill Davis could do with some input from one of the few people to successfully set up a formula one team from scratch in the recent past.