On June 23, 2012, in only his third start in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Nelson Piquet Jr. proved that he belonged there.
That day at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., Piquet started on the pole and led the first two laps. He didn’t lead again until 32 laps later when he regained the lead from Sam Hornish Jr. on lap 34. Piquet didn’t relinquish his position on the point and led the final 17 circuits around the 4.05-mile road course to seize his first victory in the series.
As a full-time driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2012, he only made one other NASCAR Nationwide start that season (Bristol). However, Piquet moved up to a full-time ride for 2013 and will look to defend his only series victory Saturday at Road America in the Johnsonville Sausage 200 Presented by Menards (5 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Piquet is currently 13th in the standings, 159 points behind leader Regan Smith. Last Saturday at Michigan, Piquet posted his first top 10 of the season when he finished ninth. Outside of poor finishes at Bristol, Talladega and Iowa where he got caught up in accidents in all three races, the Brazil native has finished no worse than 20th. Not bad for his first full season in the series.
“I really enjoy going to Road America and look forward to making my return this weekend,” he said. “We are coming off our first top 10 of the season after a solid run last weekend in Michigan.”
Piquet is not the only driver with limited experience at the track. Since the series has only competed there three times (Carl Edwards and Reed Sorenson winning the first two competitions), several drivers slated to race Saturday will be making their track debuts, including AJ Allmendinger, Alex Bowman, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Parker Kligerman, Kyle Larson, Travis Pastrana, Smith and Brian Vickers.
Although Piquet has only faced competition at Road America once in the series, he still ranks first or second in most loop data categories: first — average driver rating (142.6), average running position (4.600), fastest on restarts (103.332 mph), green-flag speed (106.116 mph), speed in traffic (106.549 mph); and second — laps led (19), fastest laps (11), fastest late in a run (106.147 mph).
If he and his race car perform similarly to how they did in their last trip to the Wisconsin road course, Piquet could be celebrating his second series victory Saturday night.
“If we run a smart race, I think we have a really good shot at defending last year’s win,” he said.
NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES THIS WEEKEND
Next Race: Johnsonville Sausage 200 Presented by Menards
The Place: Road America
The Date: Saturday, June 22
The Time: 5 p.m. (ET)
TV: ESPN, 5 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
Distance: 202.4 miles (50 laps)