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TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Tony Eury Jr. emerged from Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 8 hauler for the last time on Sunday wearing a gray T-shirt with the words "Free Agent" written across the chest."Can't wait until tomorrow morning," he said.
For the record, Jacques Villeneuve finished ahead of 22 drivers in the UAW-Ford 500 Sunday.
He also didn't cause any big wrecks, racing like a restrictor-plate pro most of the afternoon.
The fears some drivers had of Villeneuve making his Nextel Cup debut at Talladega proved unfounded. The former Formula One champion had a respectable 21st-place showing, the last car on the lead lap.
"I'm glad I didn't create any problems," Villeneuve said. "The finger was being pointed before the race, and that was understandable. The goal today was not to make any enemies. Overall, it was a great experience."
Villeneuve started on the third row, deliberately fell to the rear early in the race, but gradually worked his way back to the middle of the field.
"Early in the race was tough for some reason," Villeneuve said. "I was really tight. I almost ran into a couple of people because of that, but I'm quite happy with the result."
The French Canadian racer overcame a number of problems Sunday. The ball came off the top of his shifter and he later lost third gear.
Villeneuve also lost radio contact with his crew when a plug came loose, causing NASCAR to black flag him. He came to the pits and fixed the problem.
And Villeneuve brushed the outside wall with 55 laps to go, but kept the car under control.
"We had some things going on, which made it a good day to learn," Villeneuve said. "Next time I think everything will be a little easier."
Villeneuve also explained why he dropped to the rear after the green flag.
"I wanted to learn how to go from the back to the front," Villeneuve said. "But it also was to show respect to the guys in the Chase. I was thankful for them allowing me to race here. It was really special to me to be here, so that was my way of saying thanks."-- Terry Blount