He was already a Formula One World Champion, Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar Series Champion. Now, Jacques Villeneuve has officially competed a Daytona 500 start. It was a roller coaster weekend for the 50-year old racer and Team Hezeberg Powered by Reaume Bros., but in the end he managed a decent 22nd-place finish and at the end of the day, he had a smile on his face.
“That was fun,” Villeneuve stated with enthusiasm to TobyChristie.com following the Daytona 500. “Got to the end, 22nd. So, I’m very happy.”
While Villeneuve ended the night 22nd, two laps off the pace, he had some near-disaster moments during the race. But his legendary experience kicked in and he was able to wrangle his car while spinning heading onto pit road on the first pit stop of the day.
Then, on lap 152, Tyler Reddick had a part break on the suspension of his No. 8 car, which sent Reddick spinning directly into the path of Villeneuve. Somehow, some way, the native of Quebec steered clear of obliterating the No. 27 Ford Mustang.
“[The close calls is] what made it fun,” Villeneuve explained. “At the start, we just jammed down and then I lost the tow pitting the first time. The brake bias was completely off. So, I fixed it after that first spin. And then car 8 spun in front of me and I almost clipped it when it spun. It was a handful and the car was really tough to drive.”
While things didn’t look super impressive early on, Villeneuve kept digging and really got familiar with the car down the stretch of the race. At portions of the race, he really clung well inside the draft within the front portions of the field.
Villeneuve explained that the reason he had a hard time early in the race was that he hadn’t yet gained the trust in the draft of the fellow drivers.
“I was good in the draft. The car was really good in the draft. The problem was it took them a while to know they could draft with me,” he said. “But at some point, when we’re all running together, one car just decided to take my air out and we both lost the draft. Instead of him just staying there happily. It was not good, but that’s just the way it is.”
When you look at the final results of the weekend, Villeneuve and the Hezeberg team checked all of the boxes they were looking to check. They made the race and they finished the entire race and came home with a respectable finish.
However, between securing their place in the field on speed and crossing the finish line in 22nd, a lot of weird things transpired for the No. 27 team.
In their Duel race, the No. 27 car would not move from pit lane, while the field was making their pace laps as the throttle linkage on the car had bent where the car would not accelerate. This put their locked in status in the Daytona 500 field in jeopardy, as NASCAR rules state you have to race in the Duel to race in the Daytona 500, regardless of if your qualifying speed locked you in or not.
After frantic moments in the Duel, the team was able to get the car somewhat fixed, where Villeneuve could go around 60% throttle for the rest of the Duel.
Following the Duel, the team spent all day on Friday attempting to fix the throttle linkage issue, but then opted to change the engine on Saturday. This meant the No. 27 car did not get a chance to hit the track for any practices after the Duels.
To add a final insult to injury, the mini-van the team was using to transport themselves from their hotel to the race track, had the fuel syphoned out of it sometime between Saturday evening and Sunday night.
Despite the chaos of the weekend, Villeneuve and the No. 27 team, which received a last-minute primary sponsorship from Woodie’s Wash Shack, a Florida-based family-owned car wash service, rolled with the punches and it all paid off.
“We made the show. That was the key thing,” Villeneuve stated. “We’re a tiny team and learned a lot during the race because we had issues in the Duels and had issues in the following days. I didn’t practice pit lane. There was a lot going on today.”
After a successful Daytona 500, are there more NASCAR Cup Series races in the cards for Villeneuve in 2022?
“Oh, I want to do more,” Villeneuve said. “The question is, at some point Loris [Hezemans] will be driving the car and that’s it. So, it will depend on sponsors, mainly.”