Scott Smart Enough To Avoid Villeneuve's Antics
by John Close
Charlotte, NC (June 25th, 2012) - If they gave an award for the smartest driver in NASCAR every week, Brian Scott would win this week's honor hands down.
Scott gave up a possible top-five finish in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America Saturday when he allowed Max Papis and Jacques Villeneuve to race by on the next to last lap of the event.
On paper, that's just something you'd never do.
In Scott's case, however, it was the perfect play, especially considering his history with Villeneuve and Papis - the two 'road course ringers' brought in to compete on the twisting four-mile Road American course.
A year ago, Scott was also having a great run at the Elkhart Lake, WI road course when Villeneuve overdrove a corner a handful of laps from the checkered flag and crashed the trio of drivers. Instead of a solid finish, Scott wound up 16th.
Saturday, Scott was again a player at Road America starting sixth and leading a portion of the event. Villeneuve, meanwhile, was also in the mix as he wheeled his Penske Racing Dodge (normally driven by Brad Keselowski) to the front staying in contention for the win throughout the event.
Unfortunately, the former Indianapolis 500 and Formula One World Driving Champion also showed his lack of judgment - and ultimately, his driving skill - wheel hopping and pinballing his way by just about everyone in the field during the course of the event.
Like last year, Villeneuve was the biggest weapon in the race. Scott, remembering his result of a year ago and seeing how Villeneuve was again racing on Saturday, was happy to move over and let him and Papis by.
The result was a seventh-place finish for Scott - not quite what he wanted - but also not the fate he suffered at the hands of Villeneuve last year or the ones Elliott Sadler or Danica Patrick absorbed Saturday.
Sadler wound up 16th thanks to spin courtesy of Villeneuve's front bumper on Lap 39. Patrick, meanwhile, saw the best overall effort of her short Nationwide career spoiled when Villeneuve dumped her on the final lap. Instead of a sure top-five finish, she came home 12th.
Afterward, the sometimes volatile Patrick was reserved - but pointed - in her comments about her last-lap run in with Villeneuve.
"Where Villeneuve goes, there tends to be cars that have problems, whether it's his fault or the other car's fault or (just) stock car racing at the end of the race," she stated. "You all can make a decision for yourself, what you think happened there."
For some - like this writer - the 'decision' on Villeneuve was made way back in 2007. That's when Villeneuve first came to NASCAR Truck Series where I was a full-time spotter at the time.
Back then, my driver Terry Cook avoided Villeneuve like the plague. We used to make jokes about Villeneuve being a 'rolling pylon' - a normally stationary object that moves to a different position on the racetrack without warning every time you approach it.
Back then, you never knew what to expect from Villeneuve. Every time Cook would race up on Villeneuve, I would tell him "that's your buddy up there in front of you" - spotter speak to allow Cook to know he needed to take special care in passing Villeneuve.
Five years later and with a history of inconsistency and indiscriminately wrecking people, nothing has changed when racing Villeneuve. That's why Scott moved over. He knew what was coming.
A half a lap later - when Villeneuve trashed Patrick's day in Turn 5 - Scott motored by the incident without consequence. You know he had to be laughing out loud all the way to the checkered flag, happy he was smart enough to stay away from Villeneuve and his chaos-inducing driving antics.
Afterward, Villeneuve was totally unapologetic for his actions preferring to blame others for the incidents. As a non-regular on the Nationwide tour, perhaps he feels Teflon - that he can do anything and get away with it. If a series regular consistently drove the way Villeneuve does, they'd for sure have an audience with Nationwide director Joe Balash afterward.
Meanwhile, there won't be any immediate on-track paybacks either as Villeneuve won't be strapped in the No. 22 at Kentucky this weekend.
Those paybacks will have to wait until Villeneuve returns to the seat when the Nationwide Series goes to Montreal in August.
There, it's almost a certainty that Villeneuve's home country Canadian fans will be disappointed as his chances of winning (or even finishing well) are pretty slim. That's because those drivers he has dumped in the past (or those he will wreck during the course of the Montreal event) are probably not going to be as cool, collected and smart as Scott was at Road America Saturday.
Strap in tight, Jacques. Paybacks are a bitch.
While Villeneuve was giving racing north of the border a bad rap Saturday, it was a completely different situation south of the border in Brazil.
That's because favorite son Nelson Piquet, Jr. became the first driver from that country to ever score a win in NASCAR's top three series.
Piquet, Jr. pushed NASCAR into hyper focus in the South American country with a flawless effort Saturday. His pole-winning run earlier in the day set off a tidal wave of social media chatter that ultimately forced a local television network to replace the regularly scheduled soccer match in favor of the NASCAR Road America event.
In a country where soccer - or football as they call it - is a form of religious experience, that is beyond epic. To have a stock car race take center stage over the national sport is beyond anything NASCAR media and marketing executives could have ever dreamed of.
Piquet's win Saturday was a 'move the needle' moment for NASCAR in South America. NASCAR has courted that market for some time and the results are finally showing as drivers like Piquet and Miguel Paludo are rising through the ranks of the Nationwide and Truck Series.
Meanwhile, additional support series like the NASCAR K&N Pro Series are loaded with talented Hispanic origin drivers such as Sergio Pena, Daniel Suarez, Carlos Iconinelli, Rafael Vallina and Jorge Arteaga.
These drivers and especially Piquet, Jr. - a camera-friendly, good looking, well-spoken and obviously very talented driver - are on the fast track to the upper divisions of NASCAR. Because of these drivers, NASCAR's efforts to build a following in South America may actually be starting to come to fruition.
After all - there's no substitute for winning and now Piquet, Jr. has provided that. As he said in Victory Lane Saturday, maybe South American motorsport fans will now consider coming to a NASCAR race instead of supporting their more traditional Formula One events.
Talk about sweet music. After hearing that, everyone at NASCAR has to be dancing to that tune today.