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Jacques Villeneuve looking for a Road America victory in his first NNS race of season

Jacques Villeneuve
Jacques Villeneuve

By Lee Montgomery
Special to Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service

Jacques Villeneuve hasn't driven in a NASCAR Nationwide Series race since last August, has never driven the new Nationwide Series car and has yet to race with his current team, Penske Racing.

Yet many consider him one of the drivers to beat in this weekend's Bucyrus 200 at Road America. The former Formula One champion will drive Penske's No. 22 Dodge normally in the hands of defending series champion Brad Keselowski at the famed road course in Elkhart Lake, Wis.

And Villeneuve has but one goal: Win.

"We're all going there to win it, so that puts a bit of pressure on, which is good," Villeneuve said. "Finishing second would be disappointing, but (winning) will be difficult."

Villeneuve is still looking for his first NASCAR victory, though he's performed well in limited duties. He finished third at his home track in Montreal a year ago and was running second to Carl Edwards on the last lap at Road America last June before an electrical problem dropped him to 25th.

That finish snapped his Road America winning streak, as he won both IndyCar starts he made there in the 1990s.

"Not good for the average," Villeneuve said with a laugh.

But he'll try to up that average this weekend on one his favorite tracks.

"There are a lot of tracks around the planet, but that's one of the special ones," Villeneuve said of Road America. "It feels like all these older tracks where you feel like you're going somewhere. It's a long lap, the corners are difficult, you're in-between trees, it goes up and down. It's picturesque.

"It's always a place where I felt I would be quick. When you go there with that mindset, you end up being quicker. That was the case in IndyCars."

He was quick last year, too, qualifying Braun Racing's No. 32 second and running an aggressive race around the 4.048-mile facility.

Now, he'll get to drive for one of the top teams in the sport, a team Villeneuve knows well from his years in motorsports.

"I've always had the utmost respect for (Penske Racing), mainly because of having raced against them in IndyCar in the '90s-and all they've accomplished throughout the years," Villeneuve said. "It's a special team to be with, and whenever you get an opportunity to drive for them, you just can't say no. You jump at it."

Villeneuve recently tested with Penske, the first time he's raced the new Nationwide Series car.

"It's kind of a blank sheet of paper," Villeneuve said. "We'll start from zero, so I'm sure we'll have a few surprises. Hopefully, the brakes will be great. That's my main worry. It's important to have brakes there to stop and to overtake."

Fast facts
Bucyrus 200
Where: Road America; Elkhart Lake, Wis.
When: Saturday, 5:30 p.m. Eastern
TV: ESPN, 5 p.m. Eastern
Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 90
Track layout: 4.048-mile road course
Race distance: 50 laps/202.4 miles
Qualifying: Saturday, 3:05 p.m. Eastern
2010 winner: Carl Edwards
2010 polesitter: Carl Edwards
Points standings: 1. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 525; 2. Elliott Sadler, 523; 3. Reed Sorenson, 521; 4. Justin Allgaier, 508; 5. Aric Almirola, 471; 6. Jason Leffler, 471; 7. Kenny Wallace, 441; 8. Steve Wallace, 415; 9. Brian Scott, 393; 10. Michael Annett, 371.