Scandal behind, Piquet Jr. on a roll entering Kentucky

awincze@herald-leader.comJune 27, 2012 

If Nelson Piquet Jr. shied away from using the word validation to describe his trip to Victory Lane at Road America last weekend, it might be because there is no one term to sum up the layers of emotion behind his milestone triumph.

Yes, he became the first Brazilian to win a race in one of NASCAR's national series and yes, the former Formula One driver now has concrete proof he can make the daunting transition from the open-wheel ranks.

More than all the obvious accolades that came with his win in the Nationwide Series road course test in Wisconsin last Saturday, Piquet took the most solace in knowing he not only has chosen the right path for his career, but is traveling down it in an ideal manner.

Though he is still seeking his first win in NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series, where he is in his second full season, the son of former three-time F-1 champion Nelson Piquet is carrying a whole new bag of confidence into Thursday night's UNOH 225 at Kentucky Speedway.

In just his third career start in the Nationwide Series, Piquet's extensive road course knowledge gave him a leg up over NASCAR veterans as he won the pole and led the most laps during the race. While the 26-year-old admits he still needs to hone his ability over ovals like Sparta's 1.5 mile track, his goal of battling for a Truck Series championship is now realistic, especially given his mind set.

"It was an amazing feeling. I mean, it's difficult even to describe how good it felt," Piquet said of his win during a national teleconference this week. "I mean, for sure, it's a road course and it's what I've done my whole career, but still to come from open wheels and coming over to NASCAR and a track I've never been racing and a car I've never raced on a road course, it gave a lot of confidence for me and the team.

"It showed how strong and how capable we are, even against Cup teams."

NASCAR has been littered with established open-wheel drivers who have tried to make the jump to stock cars — Danica Patrick being the latest and most high-profile attempt.

What Piquet hopes will help him eventually join the ranks of Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya as success stories instead of struggling like Patrick and three-time IndyCar champion Sam Hornish Jr. is the fact he embraces the difficulty of the learning curve.

As much as every driver wants to become a force at the top level, Piquet knows that isn't going to happen if he tries to rush his development. Thus, he views his time in the Truck Series — where he is currently sixth in the standings just 38 points out of the lead — as an invaluable teaching tool.

"I think there's no other way of doing it than how I've done it, coming into Truck and building myself up," Piquet said. "A lot of drivers think that just because they run in a top sport like IndyCar they think they can just jump into NASCAR and run against Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch ... but these guys have been doing this for decades.

"You need to realize that you can have won a championship for IndyCar, whatever it was, but when you get to a different sport, you have to start from whatever your level is. And my level at the moment is kind of a Truck level. But a lot of drivers have a lot of ego, and think they should go to Sprint Cup or maybe think that the series is not tough enough."

Piquet's perception has been shaped in part because he has already endured the lowest of lows. In 2009, Piquet was released from his Renault Formula One team and was later found to be part of one of that sport's great scandals.

A subsequent investigation revealed that in 2008, Piquet was ordered by Renault to deliberately crash during a race in Singapore in order to bring out a caution that helped teammate Fernando Alonso win. That move resulted in Renault being handed a two-year suspension from F-1 and team manager Flavio Briatore being banned from the sport.

Piquet won a libel case against Renault in 2010 and made a fresh start with his rookie Truck Series year in 2011. As his triumph at Road America proved, the more Piquet distances himself from his current rivals the more he puts his infamy behind him.

"What could have happened (for him in F-1)? I don't know. Anything could have happened," Piquet said. "But, you know, it's just being in the right place at the right time. It didn't happen for me, but maybe it's happening now."

Camping World Truck Series update

2012 WINNERS

Feb. 24: NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona Beach, Fla. (John King)

March 31: Kroger 250 at Ridgeway, Va. (Kevin Harvick)

April 15: Good Sam Roadside Assistance Carolina 200 at Rockingham, N.C. (Kasey Kahne)

April 21: SFP 250 at Kansas City, Kan. (James Buescher)

May 18: N.C. Education Lottery 200 at Concord, N.C. (Justin Lofton)

June 1: Lucas Oil 200 at Dover, Del. (Todd Bodine)

June 8: WinStar World Casino 400k at Fort Worth, Texas (Johnny Sauter)

REMAINING SCHEDULE

Thursday: UNOH 225, Sparta, Ky.

July 14: Iowa 200, Newton, Iowa

July 21: NASCAR Camping World Series 250, Joliet, Ill.

Aug. 4: Pennsylvania Mountains 125, Long Pond, Pa.

Aug. 18: VFW 200, Brooklyn, Mich.

Aug. 22: Volunteer 200, Bristol, Tenn.

Aug. 31: Atlanta 200, Hampton, Ga.

Sept. 15: Iowa Corn Field 200, Newton, Iowa

Sept. 21: Kentucky 225, Sparta, Ky.

Sept. 29: Smith's 350, Las Vegas

Oct. 6: Coca-Cola 250, Talladega, Ala.

Oct. 27: Kroger 200, Ridgeway, Va.

Nov. 2: WinStar World Casino 350, Fort Worth, Texas

Nov. 9: Phoenix 150, Avondale, Ariz.

Nov. 16: Ford 200, Homestead, Fla.

POINTS LEADERS

1. Justin Lofton 272

2. Timothy Peters 267

3. Ty Dillon 260

4. James Buescher 249

5. Parker Kligerman 247

6. Nelson Piquet Jr. 234

7. Matt Crafton 223

8. Joey Coulter 219

9. Ron Hornaday Jr. 218

10. Todd Bodine 212

11. Cale Gale 201

12. Miguel Paludo 199

13. Jason White 197

14. David Starr 186

15. Johnny Sauter 182

16. Dakoda Armstrong 173

17. Jason Leffler 159

18. Ross Chastain 149

19. Max Gresham 148

20. John Wes Townley 146

21. Paulie Harraka 139

22. John King 135

23. Ryan Sieg 135

24. Bryan Silas 134

25. Jeb Burton 133

26. Chris Fontaine 94

27. Chris Cockrum 78

28. Jennifer Jo Cobb 77

29. Caleb Holman 72

30. Norm Benning 71

31. Brennan Newberry 66

32. Clay Greenfield 55

33. Tim George Jr. 55

34. Jeff Agnew 49

35. Jake Crum 47

36. J.R. Fitzpatrick 42

37. Dusty Davis 42

38. Rick Crawford 42

39. Scott Stenzel 41

40. Grant Enfinger 40

41. Ward Burton 36

42. Johnny Chapman 34

43. Chad McCumbee 28

44. Chris Jones 22

45. B.J. McLeod 21

46. Brent Raymer 18

47. Wes Burton 16

48. Tyler Young 16

49. T.J. Duke 13

50. Mike Skinner 11

MONEY LEADERS

1. Justin Lofton $148,110

2. Timothy Peters $146,455

3. James Buescher $136,770

4. Johnny Sauter $134,425

5. Matt Crafton $120,275

6. Todd Bodine $118,435

7. John King $115,725

8. Ty Dillon $112,240

9. Parker Kligerman $103,090

10. Nelson Piquet Jr. $101,675

11. Joey Coulter $101,235

12. Jason White $92,525

13. Cale Gale $87,425

14. Miguel Paludo $87,175

15. Ross Chastain $80,920

16. Ron Hornaday Jr. $78,475

17. Paulie Harraka $76,200

18. Max Gresham $75,100

19. David Starr $74,275

20. Bryan Silas $74,000

21. Dakoda Armstrong $73,970

22. Ryan Sieg $71,550

23. Jason Leffler $67,185

24. John Wes Townley $60,150

25. Jeb Burton $59,521

26. Kevin Harvick $57,135

27. Brad Keselowski $55,925

28. Brendan Gaughan $45,625

29. Chris Cockrum $45,000

30. Chris Fontaine $44,500

31. Jennifer Jo Cobb $44,470

32. Norm Benning $39,700

33. Brennan Newberry $33,550

34. Clay Greenfield $31,155

35. Kasey Kahne $29,000

36. Rick Crawford $26,640

37. Caleb Holman $26,030

38. Tim George Jr. $25,325

39. Jeff Agnew $25,100

40. Johnny Chapman $24,520

41. David Reutimann $24,400

42. Travis Kvapil $23,200

43. Chris Jones $20,525

44. Scott Stenzel $19,925

45. Dusty Davis $19,400

46. Chad McCumbee $18,625

47. J.R. Fitzpatrick $18,620

48. Grant Enfinger $18,602

49. Jake Crum $18,600

50. Mike Harmon $17,520

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com.

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