DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – Former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve may not have been able to deliver a fairytale finish to his late-career Daytona 500 debut on Sunday, but impressed in navigating his way through a crash-filled race.
The 50-year-old Canadian, who had failed to qualify for the crown jewel of the NASCAR schedule in his only other attempt 14 years ago, finished 22nd in the season-opening race after having begun last in the 40-car starting lineup.
Villeneuve quickly fell one lap behind the early leaders and then, on lap 38, slid into a half spin without contact while entering the pits before quickly regaining control of his Ford Mustang.
From there, Villeneuve avoided a near catastrophe when he bumped into a spinning Chevrolet driven by Tyler Reddick, who lost control of his car due to a mechanical issue, and was able to carry on mostly among the top 30 racers.
NASCAR Cup rookie Austin Cindric edged out Bubba Wallace in an overtime shootout to win the Daytona 500 while Chase Briscoe finished third.
“Well the checkered flag has flown here at Daytona, and we couldn’t be more proud of our guys. @27villeneuve brought it home P22, and even more importantly, has a clean racecar,” Reaume Brothers Racing, which prepares the cars for Villeneuve’s Netherlands-based Team Hezeberg, wrote on Twitter.
Villeneuve qualified on Wednesday when he posted the 36th-fastest lap in pole qualifying, which was enough to beat four of the other non-chartered entries and ensure his spot on the starting grid at Daytona International Speedway.
Villeneuve’s motor sports career is about as complete as it gets, but the winner of the 1997 Formula One championship and 1995 Indianapolis 500 said earlier this week qualifying for the Daytona 500 was “super high” among his all-time achievement ambitions.
(Reporting by Lewis Franck; Writing by Frank Pingue; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)