Nelson Piquet Jr. cruised to a dominating victory at Road America. [Jon Kanter Photo]
Piquet Jr. Captures First NASCAR Victory
by John Wiedemann
Elkhart Lake, WI - June 23, 2012 - After winning the his first pole in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Nelson Piquet Jr. took another step forward in his career by capturing his first NASCAR victory.
Piquet Jr. led the field to the green and the checkers as he cruised to victory in the Sargento 200 presented by Menards at Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI.
"It's just amazing," said Piquet Jr. "The moment of the race was on the [next to last] restart where I got to the lead in one or two laps. I just held back a little bit and when it was the right moment I attacked. It was on the restart where I passed Jacques [Villeneuve] and moved quick through the field and led the race at the end."
Never far from the front of the pack all day long, Piquet Jr. led the first two laps until outside pole sitter Michael McDowell took over. Two laps later and it was Ron Fellows time to take a turn at the front. Brian Scott, Max Papis, Miguel Paludo, Jacques Villeneuve and Sam Hornish Jr. all took turns at the front of the pack. With different fuel strategies coming from the pit boxes, some drivers pitted early while others tried to stretch their fuel runs.
Thirty laps were in the books when Kenny Habul buried the nose of his Toyota into the tire barrier at turn five. With the exception of Hornish Jr. and Justin Allgaier all the lead lap cars pitted. A three wide race out of the pits was won by Danica Patrick over Villeneuve and Piquet Jr.
When racing returned to green, Piquet Jr. raced forward from his fifth place restart position. Patrick fell back and Villeneuve spun off the bumper of McDowell but was able to continue. When TJ Bell parked his Chevrolet in turn ten, the third caution flag of the event was displayed. Leader Hornish Jr. hit the pits and Piquet Jr. assumed the lead.
From then on, it was Puquet Jr's race to win. Stretching out the lead over McDowell and Fellows to greater than four seconds, Piquet Jr. was never challenged on his way to the checkers.
Racing action behind the top three was another matter. Papis and Patrick battled fiercely and cleanly over the closing laps for fourth place, exchanging the position multiple times per lap. While the two Chevrolet drivers battled, others were able to join the scrum. Scott, Hornish Jr., and a hard charging Villeneuve, recovering from his earlier spin, were all in the mix for fourth place.
"I'm really proud of our effort coming from 24th to 4th," commented Papis about recovering from a stop and go penalty early in the race. Recalling the battle for fourth place, Papis said, "I enjoyed the battle with Danica. She was really good."
With one lap to go in the race, Patrick took over fourth place racing down the front straight and taking the position away from Papis in turn one. Papis took the position back in turn three, with Patrick racing back in front heading to turn five. Villeneuve raced inside of Papis through turn five and made contact with Patrick, sending her into the sand and ruining a great finish for her.
"We were racing hard," explained Villeneuve. "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 slowdown that much in the grass, so by that time I was on the racetrack again, I was going a little bit faster than Danica. That's all."
"We were all duking it out," said Patrick. "I knew with the 22 [Villeneuve] getting into the mix, things would be interesting."
Papis held on to fourth behind Piquet, McDowell and Fellows. Hornish finished fifth followed by Villeneuve and Scott. Kurt Busch, who started 34th due to a transmission change and was involved in a slight altercation when Allgaier in the action packed turn five, fought back to finish eighth. Rookie Cole Whitt and Allgaier finished ninth and tenth.
Point leader Elliott Sadler was running in the top ten on lap 38 when he was spun into the wall exiting turn five by Villeneuve as the field bunched up. Sadler was able to recover to finish fifteenth and gained a few points on Austin Dillon who struggled with transmission issues and finished eighteenth.
NASCAR Nationwide Series Race - Sargento 200
Elkhart Lakes, Wisconsin
Saturday, June 23, 2012
1. (1) Nelson Piquet Jr.(i), Chevrolet, 50, $55393.
2. (2) Michael McDowell(i), Toyota, 50, $38968.
3. (3) Ron Fellows, Chevrolet, 50, $25300.
4. (5) Max Papis, Chevrolet, 50, $27943.
5. (8) Sam Hornish Jr., Dodge, 50, $23893.
6. (4) Jacques Villeneuve, Dodge, 50, $22093.
7. (6) Brian Scott, Toyota, 50, $21368.
8. (22) Kurt Busch(i), Toyota, 50, $13275.
9. (14) Cole Whitt #, Chevrolet, 50, $20468.
10. (7) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 50, $20418.
11. (11) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 50, $22718.
12. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 50, $19043.
13. (19) Mike Bliss, Toyota, 50, $18943.
14. (15) Jason Bowles #, Toyota, 50, $18843.
15. (13) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 50, $19943.
16. (20) Kenny Habul, Toyota, 50, $12225.
17. (17) Victor Gonzalez Jr.(i), Toyota, 50, $18593.
18. (23) Austin Dillon #, Chevrolet, 50, $18493.
19. (28) Mike Wallace, Chevrolet, 50, $18418.
20. (16) Brad Sweet #, Chevrolet, 50, $19043.
21. (29) Eric McClure, Toyota, 50, $18293.
22. (25) Timmy Hill, Ford, 50, $18253.
23. (33) Erik Darnell, Chevrolet, 50, $18218.
24. (37) Tony Raines(i), Dodge, 50, $11690.
25. (26) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 50, $18563.
26. (12) Michael Annett, Ford, 48, $18053.
27. (36) Bill Prietzel, Chevrolet, 48, $11550.
28. (27) John Young, Dodge, Out of Fuel, 47, $11520.
29. (9) Miguel Paludo(i), Chevrolet, 47, $11485.
30. (24) Tayler Malsam, Toyota, 46, $18208.
31. (32) Josh Richards, Ford, 41, $11395.
32. (34) Casey Roderick #, Chevrolet, 40, $11350.
33. (18) Alex Kennedy, Toyota, 38, $17788.
34. (42) Matthew Bell, Chevrolet, 36, $17768.
35. (21) Kyle Kelley, Chevrolet, Engine, 29, $11275.
36. (41) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, Handling, 26, $11255.
37. (43) TJ Bell, Chevrolet, Rear End, 24, $11235.
38. (40) Matt Frahm, Ford, Brakes, 14, $11216.
39. (35) Ryan Ellis, Chevrolet, Ignition, 4, $11075.
40. (39) Chase Miller, Chevrolet, Brakes, 4, $10975.
41. (31) Matt DiBenedetto, Chevrolet, Overheating, 3, $10930.
42. (38) Tim Schendel, Chevrolet, Vibration, 3, $10895.
43. (30) Jeff Green, Toyota, Vibration, 2, $10823.