Jacques Villeneuve beats the odds after qualifying for Daytona 500

Jacques Villeneuve beats the odds after qualifying for Daytona 500

Villeneuve set the 36th fastest lap in pole qualifying, earning him a spot on the 18th row of the grid.

1997 F1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve will start the 64th Daytona 500 on Sunday, adding to his illustrious motorsport career a start in NASCAR’s iconic event.

On Wednesday evening, Villeneuve set the 36th fastest lap in pole qualifying, earning him a spot on the 18th row of the grid for Thursday’s second Duel race, with the 60-lap races determining the final starting position for stock car racing’s ‘Great American Race.’

Villeneuve and his Team Hezeberg have been working hard in preparation for NASCAR’s first race of the season. The 50-year-old stated why he wanted to add the Daytona 500 to the long list of accomplishments in his motorsports career.

“The Daytona 500 is one of the three big races on the planet,” said Villeneuve, whose career in the US includes a win in the Indy 500 in 1995.

“You have the Le Mans 24 Hours the Indy 500 and Daytona, so that’s one reason for doing it. And you know, you have a good race, then you end up doing a few more.

“I’ve never stopped racing. I’ve never stopped wanting to race in NASCAR, which is why I was racing a little bit in Europe.”

This was not the first time Villeneuve was making an attempt at qualifying for Daytona 500, with his previous attempt at the same event being back in 2008.

Team Hezeberg celebrated the victory and Villeneuve admitted that his qualifying performance was something of a surprise considering his Mustang’s performance in practice.

“Sometimes, you know you’re quick and you expect [to make it] and it goes wrong… and that’s a big letdown,” Villeneuve added.

“Well now I thought, ‘okay, we can’t get in on time.’ So it’s the biggest surprise and it’s such a relief. It’s amazing.”

The 50-year-old stated that participating in the Daytona 500 with a non-chartered squad like Team Hezeberg hasn’t made things any easier for him, but he’s still looking forward to racing in the pack on Florida’s iconic track.

“We’re a tiny team from Europe,” he said.

“We didn’t work with a big team to get here… and we really think we didn’t think we had to speed to get in on time.”

“So we were hoping to get maybe third or fourth (of the open cars) so we would have a better shot at the race tomorrow. But to be in on time is a big load off our shoulders. And it’s been 14 years since I tried. It’s been a long time coming.”

“Obviously, it’s not a win. It’s not like winning the Indy 500 or the F1 championship,” he added.

“But at this point in my career, the last time I tried to qualify here was 14 years ago. Just to make the show is incredible because it’s a small team. We didn’t link up with a big team to get the car ready and it’s highly unexpected to be able to make it on time, so it ranks right after these big wins.”

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