Nadeau Hopes To Make His Point

Every time the NASCAR Winston Cup Series rolls into one of its two road-course races, a crop of experience road racers always appear to take stock-car seats.

That happens again this weekend at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. But one of the road racers is also an experience stock-car driver.

Jerry Nadeau has one Winston Cup victory in his career, scored at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2000. He’s been out of a job since being released from his Hendrick Motorsports ride, but Nadeau will be back for the Dodge/Save Mart 350 this weekend.

Nadeau will be behind the wheel of Petty Enterprises’ No. 44 Dodge in a one-race deal as replacement for Steve Grissom, who will be back in the car for the Pepsi 400 at Daytona.

“I don’t know if I have a big advantage driving a road course, but I do enjoy the race tracks,” Nadeau said. “It will be the first time that I have been in a Dodge, and I am interested in seeing how they react on the track. I know that Dodge and Petty Enterprises do a lot of work with their engines, and they have been keeping up with the latest technologies. It will be interesting to see what other teams have, and what I will be able to do for them.”

Nadeau has had some excellent results on road courses in his brief Winston Cup career. His background is in open-wheel road racing, so that should come as no surprise. Last year, with Hendrick Motorsports, Nadeau qualified sixth and third at the two road-course events, finishing 31st at Sears Point and sixth at Watkins Glen.

He finished eighth at Sears Point in 2000, qualified third there in 1999 and second in ’98. Nadeau has also finished fifth at Watkins Glen in 1999.

Crew chief Greg Steadman, who recently moved to the No. 44 team, isn’t worried about who is behind the wheel this week. He’s confident Nadeau has the talent to put the car up front.

“The lucky thing for me as a crew chief is that this is a road course, so having Jerry in the car this week is not really a problem,” Steadman said. “On a road course we just put some springs and shocks on the car, and really the driver does the work. I think Jerry can do a good job behind the wheel, and that’s important at Sears Point. We just kind of set the car up, and the driver is the one who makes up all the time. Sears Point is a place where you can make up or lose a lot of time on any lap. I think Jerry can do a good job of getting this Georgia-Pacific Dodge to the front.”

Neither Nadeau nor Steadman is worried about the obstacles that usually come with a driver making a one-race appearance.

“I don’t think that a one-race deal will be too tough,” Nadeau said. “Petty Enterprises has had a lot of experience and success in the past at Sears Point, and I have some pretty good experience on road courses. I have driven stock cars on road courses too, so it’s not like this is a shot in the dark.

“I think that this is going to be a lot of fun. It will be good for all of us, and especially for me. I am really anxious to get back on the race track again.

John Andretti, Steadman’s former driver, finished third in 1998 and ’99 with the Pettys, so a good run isn’t impossible for Nadeau.

“Ovals are a little bit different if you have another driver come in for a one-race deal,” Steadman said. “All drivers are different, and I would have to learn what the driver wants. They all want different things on their cars. I am going through it right now with Steve (Grissom). He is learning the way I do things, and I am learning the way he does things. Road courses are just different.”

Road course intimidate some drivers and teams, but Steadman isn’t afraid.

“I guess crew chiefs are like the drivers when it comes to road courses: some like them and some don’t,” Steadman said. “I don’t mind them because it’s pretty basic for us. We have a road-course combination that we put on the car at the start of the weekend, and then just change shocks and springs from there.

“Road courses are whole different ball games. There is so much of a game of give-and-take at road courses. There are like 11 or 12 turns and you know that you’re not going to be perfect on all of them, but you can be good on all of them. I will just get feedback from Jerry and make the adjustments to make the car good.”

Steadman said the key is to get the car balanced well since a driver turns left and right.

“These cars are somewhat basic,” Steadman said. “There is only so much you can do to the car, and at road course it’s as much as your spring and shock combination as anything else. If we can a good combination and a balanced car I am sure that Jerry will give this Georgia-Pacific Dodge a good run.”

Nadeau hopes so. He’s driven everything from a Formula Opel car in Europe to a dirt-track go-kart to a Showroom Stock car to a Winston Cup car, but he’s never driven for Petty Enterprises, one of NASCAR’s founding teams.

“It’s going to be really cool to step into a Petty Enterprises car,” Nadeau said. “Growing up, Richard Petty was always an idol of mine. Every since I was young I looked up to ‘The King,’ and it’s going to be cool to get into a Petty car. It’s a really neat opportunity and it will be a good experience.”

Staff Writer Lee Montgomery can be reached at<

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