NASCAR & Auto Racing

Talladega no place for rookies, Jeff Gordon says of Jacques Villenueve's plans for Cup debut

KANSAS CITY, Kan. - `Recently approved by NASCAR for superspeedway competition, former Formula One world champion Jacques Villeneuve plans to attempt his first Nextel Cup Series race start Bill Davis Racing Oct. 7 at Talladega, Ala.

Villeneuve recently completed a car of tomorrow test at Talladega without incident and made his NASCAR debut last weekend in the Truck race at Las Vegas, where he finished 21st. He will also drive in the Truck race at Talladega next weekend.

Villeneuve’s approval did not sit well with some drivers in the Cup garage, notably four-time champion Jeff Gordon.

“I’m fired about it. There’s a lot I’d like to say about it and it has nothing to with Jacques Villeneuve or Bill Davis. It’s great what they’re doing and I want to see him in the Cup series, but not at Talladega,” Gordon said.

“There’s too much on the line. It’s a track that’s not for rookies. No matter if he’s one of the most experienced race car drivers in the world, it’s just not the place to start. There are so many more tracks to start at. Why start there?”

NASCAR officials said the same approval process was used for Villeneuve as any other driver.

“Certain drivers come in at different levels depending on what they’ve accomplished,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president for competition.

"We value the Indy 500 and other races. Jacques having a Formula One background, open-wheel and his success at 500-mile races and run at high speeds in close proximity of other cars show he is capable.”

Villeneuve will drive the No. 27 Toyota and will have to make the field on speed since his team is not in the top 35 of car owner points.