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Notebook: Piquet Jr. faces rocky repeat road

June 21, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

A year removed from first Nationwide win, Brazilian expects more competition

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. --- In 2012, there was no doubt Nelson Piquet Jr. was one of the favorites to win at Road America.

A full-time driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at the time, Piquet was second-fastest in the opening practice, third-fastest in the final practice and qualified on the Coors Light Pole.

So when he led 19 laps, including the final 17, to win in just his third career NASCAR Nationwide Series start, Piquet’s trip to Victory Lane was memorable, but not unexpected.

The driver expects a more difficult path this year.

"I think the field in general is stronger with the Nationwide guys, and then the guys who are strong on road courses. It’s going to be competitive and probably even a little bit harder."
--Nelson Piquet Jr.

“I think the field in general is stronger with the Nationwide guys, and then the guys who are strong on road courses,” Piquet said following a final practice run in which he finished seventh. “It’s going to be competitive and probably even a little bit harder. I think we’re going to be fighting up there in the top five. It’s just going to be who has a perfect day.”

Entering the Johnsonville Sausage 200 presented by Menards (Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN), Piquet is 13th in the points standings. In 13 races, he has one top-10, a ninth-place showing last week at Michigan.

It’s been a frustrating experience for the 27-year-old Brazilian driver, who’s in his first year of driving the No. 30 Chevrolet for Turner Scott Motorsports.

“Obviously, I am frustrated with the results,” Piquet said. “We’re not where I wanted to be. Part of it is because it was a last-minute deal, the team was put together very quickly a few weeks before Daytona.

“We know we have a car that can constantly be running in the top 10, but we’re struggling to get those top-10s.”

First time for everything

Nationwide Series points leader Regan Smith studied film before coming to Road America.

With no experience at the track, Smith got his hands on TV footage and in-car cameras to try and get a feel for the course that winds through the Wisconsin woods.

It didn’t help.

“I thought I knew what I was preparing myself for, but I had no clue when I got out there,” Smith said following practice.  “At the end of a straightaway I saw an oak tree, and I didn’t know whether to turn left or right. I knew I was kind of in trouble.

“So studying the film does help, but doesn’t (replace) being here.”

Ready for the rain

Lightning in the area delayed the first scheduled Nationwide Series practice for 90 minutes. When the cars got the OK to go out on the track, it was going on three hours of raining.

Several teams opted to wait to see if the rain would halt (it did, eventually).

Not Michael McDowell. The runner-up in the 2012 race, McDowell is driving the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing and was the first driver to steer his car onto the track.

“I actually was first on track, so I was looking forward to running in the rain just because there is a chance that we’ll have it (Saturday),” McDowell said. “So, I just wanted to experience the conditions. The hardest conditions anytime you have rain is that transition from rain to dry and knowing when to do it and how to do it and what it’s going to be like. So, I wanted to make sure that I had some time in the wet just to be prepared for that.”

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