There aren’t many accolades in racing that Jacques Villeneuve hasn’t already accomplished, but come February, the Montreal, Quebec-native will look to cross qualifying for the Daytona 500 off that list, he revealed in a media availability during Wednesday’s Daytona Next Gen test.
Villeneuve says depending on how Daytona goes, he could run multiple races.
“When Team Hezeberg decided to get going, because I had been racing Loris Hezemans, the son of one of the two owners, in Europe and he’s not approved for Cup at this point. So, that’s how we ended up getting together and bringing experience to the team,” Villeneuve explained. “But right now, it’s a new team. It’s a small team. There’s still a long way to go. Right now, we’re focusing on Daytona and hopefully we’ll do more races.”
The 50-year-old will look to be one of the four “open entries” to qualify into the season-opening event, driving the No. 27 Ford Mustang for Team Hezeberg Powered by Reaume Brothers. Villeneuve said that getting behind the wheel of the Next Gen at Daytona was a great feeling.
“It felt great. I felt great,” Villeneuve said. “I did a few laps at the Roval test, which was very complicated. The car was very strange to drive there. But to get back on the speedway, this is a THE race. There’s a few races in the world that stand out. You have the Indy 500, the 24 Hours of LeMans and Daytona. It’s part of that very small group of special races or tracks to drive at.”
Villeneuve says he is preparing to make the field for the Daytona 500, and unless Team Hezeberg changes their mind, that’s what his intentions are.
“That’s why we’re testing, unless the team changes their mind,” Villeneuve stated. “At this point, it’s all self financed by the owners. The reason they came into the series is also because it’s a new car that you buy off the shelf. Then, obviously, teams work on them and they are discovering a lot of work has to be done.”
In Villeneuve’s one prior Daytona 500 attempt in 2008, the veteran road racer was unable to finish high enough in his duel race to secure a spot in the show, driving an additional entry for Bill Davis Racing.
This time, Villeneuve wants to make it into what he considers one of the most prestigious races in the world — the Daytona 500.
“It would be amazing,” Villeneuve said of the possibility of making the Daytona 500 field. “The last time I was in a NASCAR was quite a few years ago — I think it was Sonoma the last time — so, that was quite a few years ago. Also, it would be extremely special because this is also a really special race to participate in and it’s hard to get into the show when you have to qualify on time or make it in the duels.”
While February’s contest could serve as a career milestone for Villeneuve, the race will also double as a milestone for the NASCAR Cup Series, as well as Team Hezeberg, as both the Next Gen car, and the single-car part-time operation will make their points-paying debut.
Since 2019, Villeneuve has been passing the time racing in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series – against his Team Hezeberg teammate Loris Hezemans — picking up a pair of victories to finish the 2021 season at the American Festival of Rome.
He’s a driver I’d love to see in the 500!