NASCAR or bust

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

In case anyone needed a reminder about the state of the economy, Jacques Villeneuve -- Canada's only Formula One/Indianapolis 500 champion -- brought it home in spades yesterday.

The native of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., appeared at the Canadian Motorsports Expo at the International Centre and spelled out just how hard it has been for him to attract enough sponsorship dollars to get his newly minted NASCAR career back on track.

"It's tough going," he said. "There are still a bunch of (NASCAR) teams that are looking at getting funding for 2009 and I am spending virtually all my time trying to get (a deal) done."

The frustrating thing, of course, is that Villeneuve should be able to stand before any corporation in Canada, shake hands with a few company directors and come out with a wheel barrow full of cash to back any kind of racing venture that he wanted.

After all, he has one of the most recognizable names in all of sports; his late father is worshipped on two continents and he is a two-time Canadian male athlete of the year.

And at 37 years old, he still is young enough to drive at least five more seasons at the top of his game in NASCAR.

All this, however, amounts to a hill of beans with the auto manufacturing world in a death spiral.

"I am at my core an optimist," Villeneuve said. "So I believe that even with current conditions something will happen to get me back in a race car this season."

One of the options he has is to go racing V8 Super Cars in Australia, a NASCAR-style series that races stock cars on road courses.

"But I doubt I will do that," he said. "My family is settled in Montreal and it wouldn't be fair to uproot them for a few months racing in Australia."

Still, Villeneuve was adamant that his desire to compete in high-speed, high-level racing is as strong as it was when he won the CART championship back in 1995.

"I have my restaurant (Newtown) in Montreal and I have my music (he released a soft-rock album two years ago) but my passion is for racing," he said.

Villeneuve is so focused on breaking into NASCAR that he has decided to forego another opportunity with team Peugeot to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans this spring.

In 2008, he was within a handful of laps of becoming the first man since Graham Hill to win the triple crown of motorsports -- a CART title, the Indy 500 and a Le Mans championship.

"Going back to Le Mans would take too much time away from pursuing NASCAR," he said.

Villeneuve always has been nothing, if not driven to succeed his whole life, so don't bet against seeing him banging fenders with Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at a NASCAR Sprint Cup race near you sometime this year.

The Canadian Motorsports Expo continues today at the International Centre.


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