Danica, Bowyer expect respect from Villeneuve
June 21, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
SONOMA, Calif. – Other than a polite hello, Danica Patrick said she had very little to say to Jacques Villeneuve during what could be considered a rather intimate rookie drivers meeting before Friday practice at Sonoma Raceway.
It was a more cordial exchange than she would have offered a year ago when the former Indianapolis 500 winner and 1997 Formula One world champ Villeneuve turned Patrick on the final lap of a NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America.
The incident is still up for debate.
"Train wreck, extremely fast train, but usually ends up derailed somehow. I don't mean that rude. There has to be a level of respect..."
“I was like, ‘Oh, … hey’ and that was about it,’’ Patrick said of greeting Villeneuve on Friday.
“After the things that have happened, it’s hard to have a lot of respect for somebody like that. I respect what he’s done in his career, but the way he treats other drivers on the track, I can’t (respect that). That’s all there is to say.’’
Actually, drivers had plenty to say about Villeneuve’s entry in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET, TNT). And much of it wasn’t warm and fuzzy.
Although a champion and well-respected open-wheel racer, the Canadian has developed a reputation as a ready-to-tangle road course ace, more than willing to use his bumper if necessary in his limited stock car appearances.
Defending Sonoma winner Clint Bowyer was direct when asked what came to mind when he found out Villeneuve would be racing this weekend.
“Train wreck, extremely fast train, but usually ends up derailed somehow,’’ Bowyer said. “I don't mean that rude. There has to be a level of respect, and it doesn't matter if you're racing for points throughout the season, or just show up and race against the peers of one of the premier levels of all of motorsports.
“If that respect is not there, you're not going to come in and beat and bang on this bunch for long, and you're probably going to be frustrated by the end of the day. That's not a threat or anything else. We've all seen what will happen in those Nationwide races, and it was too bad because there seemed to be one common denominator in a lot of the cautions that came out."
The dust-up with Patrick occurred while she, Max Papis and Villeneuve were contending for fourth place in the Nationwide race at Road America. And Villeneuve insisted this week at Sonoma that it was unintentional contact and the resulting brouhaha was overblown.
Same with a much-hyped run-in with Marcos Ambrose in a Nationwide race at Montreal in 2011.
“I don’t know what happened with this image of a reckless driving thing,’’ Villeneuve said Friday. “It got taken out of proportion. I understand the guys that race here, that’s what they read. But they have to understand.
“I’ve raced Marcos and ran into him just because I made a mistake, and he ended up winning the race anyway. Aggressive is good, but you still need to stay clean. Bending fenders can happen but not just taking people out on purpose, which is not something I normally do.
“When you’re racing, anything can happen, but there’s a difference between making a mistake and taking someone out. I really don’t want to ever take anyone out.’’
As for the incident with Patrick, the 11-time F1 winner Villeneuve still insists there was nothing intentional. He’s not looking for a feud.
“It started with Elkhart Lake and that was a stupid move, and I took two cars out and that was just not a good day,’’ Villeneuve continued. “There’s nothing to talk about with Danica. She was racing Papis there. She wasn’t even racing me.
“When you hit the brakes at that point, there’s nothing you can do, and she just got caught up in that incident. I don’t understand this huge reaction that happened afterward, it was as if I’d done something on purpose. I got taken out earlier by (Michael) McDowell and nobody cares, they thought that was great. Same thing at Montreal, I got taken out leading the last lap, and that was (considered) great.
“It’s something I don’t understand, you know. Mistakes will happen and sometimes you get caught in mistakes that aren’t even your making. The perception that came out of it was enormous, and it’s still bad now. I guess too bad, I am stuck with that now.’’
Villeneuve was 30th in the opening practice and spun in the second. But as NASCAR fate so often has it, Villeneuve will qualify in the same group as Patrick. He will go to track just after Patrick’s boyfriend, fellow Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and just before Patrick.