Elkhart Lake, WI – Brazilian driver Nelson Piquet Jr. claimed his first win in NASCAR by taking Saturday's Sargento 200 Nationwide Series race at Road America.
Piquet, a former Formula One competitor who is now a regular in the Camping World Truck Series, started on the pole and led a total of 19 laps in the 50- lap race on the 4.048-mile, 14-turn Wisconsin road course. He finished 2.26 seconds ahead of Michael McDowell for his first Nationwide victory in just his third start.
After climbing out of his No. 30 Turner Motorsports Chevrolet, Piquet wrapped himself with a Brazilian flag. Piquet became the fifth different driver born outside of the United States to win a race in NASCAR's second-tier series. He is the 26-year-old son of three-time F1 world champion Nelson Piquet.
"I knew I could do it, but it was just a matter of being with the right team and the right people," Piquet said. "I'm so happy to get this first win in Nationwide. I'm still missing that truck (win), but it will come soon."
In a race that featured various pit strategies from teams, Piquet last pitted just after 30 laps were completed. He grabbed the lead for good with 17 laps to go when he opted to stay on the track while most of other front runners came on to pit road during a caution.
After the fifth and final restart with 12 laps left, Piquet easily pulled away from McDowell and then was untouchable from there.
"I struggled a little bit in the beginning, but when I got in some clean air, I just took control," Piquet noted. "The car was great. I just had to be careful not to make any mistakes."
Piquet finished seventh in his Nationwide debut in August 2010 at the Watkins Glen, NY road course. His most recent start came in the 2011 season-finale at Homestead, FL, where he placed 24th.
Crew chief Trent Owens guided Piquet's efforts at Road America. Last year, Owens served as crew chief for Reed Sorenson when Sorenson won here.
"I knew how good of road racer (Piquet Jr.) was, but I never realized he was that good," Owens said. "He's probably the best that I've ever worked with. This is an awesome win. To win it outright and beat some of the best in the business in road racing, it's a good feeling, and two in a row, I like this place right now."
While Piquet picked up the win, Danica Patrick had a potential top-five finish taken away on the final lap when Canadian Jacques Villeneuve, the 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner and 1997 F1 titleholder, bumped Patrick from behind and punted her into the gravel trap in turn five. Italian Max Papis overtook her for the fourth position just before the incident occurred. All three driver were caught up in traffic at the time.
"When I was behind Danica and Papis was on the outside, maybe he didn't know I was there, said Villeneuve, who finished sixth. "Down the straight, he pushed me into the grass just where we hit the brakes. So when I jumped on the brakes, I was in the grass because of that. I wasn't right next to him, so I had no idea. I couldn't slow down after that."
Patrick ended up finishing 12th.
On lap 21, Patrick moved around Miguel Paludo to take the lead, but her lead would be short-lived when she went wide into turn five on that same lap, allowing Paludo to reassume the position. Patrick's best Nationwide finish so far is fourth, which came in the March 2011 race at Las Vegas. She set a record for highest finishing female in a NASCAR national touring series event.
"The bummer is that we weren't able to finish off with a top-five like I felt we all deserved," Patrick said. "It just would have been good to get a good result. People sort of say I don't get results, but today, I ran well. I feel like lately we've been running much better, but we just haven't sort of finished the deal and gotten the results."
Ron Fellows from Canada finished third, while Papis placed fourth. Sam Hornish Jr. completed the top-five.
Papis and Hornish both rebounded from a stop-and-go penalty for equipment leaving their assigned stall areas during their stops. Hornish's mishap occurred on the second lap, while Papis was charged for the infraction on lap 31.
Kurt Busch, the only Sprint Cup Series regular to compete in this race, qualified 22nd but had to start from the rear of the field due to an unapproved adjustment to his car prior to the event. Busch finished eighth. Sprint Cup is competing on the road course in Sonoma, CA on Sunday.
Elliott Sadler remained atop the point standings despite a 15th-place finish. Sadler bounced back after Villeneuve turned him around as well with 11 laps remaining. His points lead is now 11 over rookie Austin Dillon, who finished 18th. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. moved to within 23 points following his 11th-place run.