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Day of firsts as Piquet wins at Road America

June 24, 2012, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com



Day of firsts as Piquet wins at Road America

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. -- Nelson Piquet Jr. enjoyed a lot of firsts during the Sargento 200 race weekend at Road America.

A regular in the Camping World Truck Series, Piquet used his first career pole and laps led to earn his first NASCAR national-series win on the Wisconsin road course. In his third career Nationwide Series start, he drove a flawless final 17 laps with the lead, earning a 2.258-second victory over runner-up Michael McDowell. Piquet led a race-high 19 laps to become the first Brazilian to win a NASCAR national-series race.

Road America

Results
Pos.DriverMake
2. Michael McDowell Toyota
3. Ron Fellows Chevrolet
4. Max Papis Chevrolet
5. Sam Hornish Jr. Dodge
Pos.+/-DriverBehind
2. -- A. Dillon-11
3. -- R. Stenhouse Jr. -23
4. -- S. Hornish Jr. -34
5. -- C. Whitt -75

"It's difficult to put into words what I'm feeling," Piquet Jr. said. "I think we had a great week since the first practice. I learned the track quite quickly and the team helped me out quite a bit."

* Final Laps: Piquet wins, Danica dumped | Victory Lane

Piquet didn't fight too hard for the lead until after the halfway mark, but that was a strategic move in order to save fuel in case there was a green-white-checkered finish like last year where the 4.048-mile course caused mayhem on pit crews trying to have enough fuel to finish the race.

"I could have fought harder in the middle of the race but there was no reason why," Piquet said. "I wasn't going to accomplish anything. I just held back a little bit and when it was the right moment I attacked. It was on one of the restarts where I passed Jacques [Villeneuve] and moved quick through the field and led the race at the end."

McDowell and Ron Fellows finished where they started, at second and third, respectively. Max Papis and Sam Hornish Jr. rounded out the top five.

* Part-timer McDowell shows stuff again with runner-up finish

"We had a really good car," McDowell said. "The problem was I used up my car a little too much to get into second and then on that final restart I tried to be a little smart and anticipate Nelson trying to go a little early and tuck in behind him but Danica [Patrick] was right there. I kind of knew if I gave up a little bit to be at the bottom it would be worth it, but I just never got to the bottom. I tried to run down Nelson but his car was fast. I don't know if we would have had anything for him if we would have stayed with him on that restart. I think he was saving a little bit on fuel, because when he needed to go it seemed like he could."

Road America had a tamer finish than last year, which had three green-white-checkered finishes. Things did get a little interesting when one of the big names from last year, Villeneuve, made contact with Patrick in Turn 5 on the final lap, which spun Patrick, dropping her from fourth to 12th, her eventual finish.

* Post-Race Reactions: Villeneuve, Patrick discuss the incident

Villeneuve finished sixth, followed by Brian Scott, Kurt Bush, Cole Whitt and Justin Allgaier.

Patrick had a near-flawless day up until her greeting with Villeneuve on the last lap. Villeneuve said after the race though that he was not trying to wreck Patrick at all.

"We were racing hard and I wasn't fighting with Danica," Villeneuve said. "I was fighting with Max Papis and just before the braking, I guess he was wanting to cross over and go to the inside of Danica. He probably didn't know I was there, so it pushed me in the grass. You don't slow down that much in the grass, so by that time I was on the race track again, I was going a little bit faster than Danica. That's all."

The race started with Piquet leading, but that didn't last long as McDowell took the lead on Lap 3. Busch, who had to start 34th after having unapproved adjustments made to his car, made his way all the way up to 17th. McDowell and Piquet pitted on Lap 6 for fuel, allowing Fellows to grab the lead.

"I was fighting with Max Papis and just before the braking, I guess he was wanting to cross over and go to the inside of Danica. He probably didn't know I was there, so it pushed me in the grass. You don't slow down that much in the grass, so by that time I was on the race track again, I was going a little bit faster than Danica. That's all. "

--JACQUES VILLENEUVE

With Fellows starting to pull away from the pack, a punctured tire slowed all his momentum, causing him to enter the pits on Lap 9 (watch). Scott was the beneficiary of that, allowing him to take the lead. Patrick, who started 10th, made her way up to second place by Lap 11 and stay in the top five for most of the race.

T.J. Bell had a problem in Turn 14 on Lap 13, leading to the first caution of the day. Many of the drivers made their way to the pits, with Allgaier having to spend some extra time there while his pit crew had to help remove a water bottle that had fallen underneath his gas pedal (watch).

With the caution lasting multiple laps, Scott was one of the last drivers to pit, surrendering his lead to McDowell. Papis took the lead from McDowell on Turn 3 of Lap 16. It wouldn't be long until the next caution, however, as loose debris caused another yellow flag.

After that caution, Miguel Paludo was the new leader, with Patrick running in second place. Patrick made her move on Paludo on Turn 3 of Lap 21 to take the lead, but her little slide in Turn 5 gave the lead right back to Paludo.

* Video: Turn 5 is calamity corner at Road America

Another caution took place when Kenny Habul went into the tire wall at Turn 5. Villeneuve was in the lead at the time. With the leaders pitting, Papis was hit with a stop-and-go penalty and Hornish, who like many was trying to manage fuel, took the lead on Lap 33.

Turn 5 had some more action a little after that when Villeneuve was bumped in the back by McDowell. Villeneuve dropped from the top five all the way down to 22nd. Another caution involving Bell slowed everything again. The leaders pitted, hoping to make it the rest of the way with the fuel they had. This time, Piquet Jr. took the lead for the final time.

Allgaier had an issue with his front-left tire and wound up in the gravel on Turn 5 on Lap 37, hitting Busch on his way there. Points leader Elliot Sadler got spun on Lap 39 and finished 15th. Austin Dillon remained second in points with an 18th-place finish. Dillon, who is 11 points behind Sadler, had issues with his car, which kept him out of contention.

* Dillon struggles after early issues at Road America

Notes-n-Nuggets

• Nelson Piquet Jr. scored his first career win in his third start; his previous best finish was seventh at Watkins Glen in 2010.
• Nelson Piquet Jr. is the 18th driver to win within his first three NNS starts, and first since Joey Logano in 2008.
• Nelson Piquet Jr. is the fifth foreign-born winner in the NNS; it's the 11th NASCAR race won by a foreign-born driver.
• Nelson Piquet Jr. is the third different winner at Road America in three races: Carl Edwards (2010) and Reed Sorenson (2011); neither was entered in this race.
• Nelson Piquet Jr. is the second first-time winner of 2012, joining James Buescher (Daytona); both were in the No. 30 Chevrolet of Turner Motorsports.
• Nelson Piquet Jr. is the seventh driver to get his first NNS win on a road course; four of them were foreign-born.
• Nelson Piquet Jr. is the seventh different winner in 2012.
• Crew Chief Trent Owens posted his fifth NNS win, including the past two at Road America.
• Turner Motorsports scored its fifth career win, all from different drivers, and second at Road America (Reed Sorenson in 2011).
• Chevrolet posted its fourth win of 2012 and second at Road America.
• Michael McDowell (second) posted his career-best finish in his 80th start; previous best was third (twice).
• Ron Fellows (third) has finished in the top three in all three Road America races.
• Max Papis (fourth) posted his third career top-five finish in his 11th start and first at Road America.
• Sam Hornish Jr. (fifth) posted his fifth career top-five, and his third of 2012 in his first Road America start.
• Jacques Villeneuve (sixth) posted his fifth top-10 in his eighth start; he restarted 22nd on Lap 36
• Brian Scott (seventh) has finished in the top 11 in five of the past six races; it's his best road-course finish.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who has been in the middle of a major slump, finished 11th and remains third in points, 23 behind Sadler.