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After F1 scandal, Piquet making progress in NASCAR

Nelson Piquet Jr.'s famous family name doesn't quite have the same kind of clout in NASCAR as it does in the rest of the auto racing world.

Some of the baggage might have made its way here from overseas, though.

The son of a three-time Formula One champion, the Brazilian achieved his dream when he got an F1 ride of his own in 2008. But it ended in scandal after Piquet deliberately crashed in a race to help his teammate, following orders from his team.

Now Piquet is trying to work his way up the ladder in NASCAR, and hopes his victory in Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Road America will get him a second look from team owners.

"In Formula One, things didn't go really the way I wanted because it was just wrong timing," Piquet said. "And I think people just kept comparing me to what I did (immediately) before I came here, and not everything I've done before. So I think if they want me to rebuild everything, I will rebuild everything in a stock car. No problem."

There has been no shortage of open-wheel racers trying to make the transition to NASCAR in recent years, but few have been willing to start near the bottom and work their way up. That isn't the case with Piquet, who competes full time in the Camping World Truck Series — NASCAR's equivalent to Double-A baseball, two rungs below the marquee Sprint Cup Series.

And while he hasn't won a truck race yet, he is sixth in the points standings heading into Thursday night's race at Kentucky Speedway. And he clearly considers himself a championship contender.

"I can do it in the trucks," Piquet said. "We still haven't won a race, but we have dominated a few races here and there, and we're still going to win a race this year and I'm sure at the end of the year we'll be fighting for a championship."

Crew chief Trent Owens said Piquet's approach to learning NASCAR is the right one.

"I think it's a great move," Owens said. "You always hear the talk all the time about people jumping up too quick. And he may be ready for that, we don't necessarily know that. But I think what he's doing is correct, and I think it'll pay off for him."

So while winning Saturday's race was a significant step, Piquet tried to keep it in perspective. Given his worldwide experience on road courses, and a chance to drive a competitive Turner Motorsports car, Piquet figured he should win.

"That's what we came here for," Piquet said. "I think if we won a championship, it would be something else. I'm not disregarding the race, I'm just saying that ... I think my emotions would be much different when I win a Truck championship at the end of the year. Winning this race is very special, but like I said, there's a lot of drivers over here that don't have the track time that I have on a road course."

Piquet knows he won't be able to work his way up to a full-time Nationwide ride unless he shows he can run consistently well on oval tracks.

"Obviously, my goal is to learn as much as I can on ovals and get that part of my brain well-trained," Piquet said. "The road course is something that I grew up (with) since I was eight and I'm never going to forget about it. So I have to work very hard, work on those ovals, learning how to set up those trucks and to be able to fight for the championship at the end of the year."

He hopes to run Nationwide full-time next season, the next step in a career path that seemed unlikely when Piquet followed in his famous father's footsteps to Formula One — only to take a bad turn.

Piquet intentionally crashed his car at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to help teammate Fernando Alonso win the race. Piquet, who was fired during the 2009 season, eventually was cleared of wrongdoing while team officials were punished after an investigation by racing's governing body determined Piquet had been ordered to crash.

On Saturday, Piquet said people often focus on how his F1 career ended instead of what he had achieved to get there.

"People don't acknowledge everything that I've done in my past," Piquet said.

With that in mind, he's out to prove himself.

"I don't mind," Piquet said. "I said I'll work back on Trucks and work myself up and here we are. Turner gave me this opportunity, and I got it and won the race. Hopefully, it'll open the minds of other people."

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Connect with AP Sports Writer Chris Jenkins: www.twitter.com/ByChrisJenkins