What looked like a disaster early on for Nelson Piquet Jr. — a spin on lap 56 — turned fortuitous as green flags clicked by to close the VFW 200 at Michigan International Speedway.
Piquet and crew chief Chris Carrier employed a brilliant — and race-winning — strategy to capture the Brazilian’s first victory in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The duo chose to stay out on the race track while the front-runners pitted under green, and milked a huge lead that ballooned to over 15 seconds with seven laps remaining.
“Me and Chris have been fighting for this win since the beginning of last year and we finally made it,” Piquet said. “It came in a dramatic way, but it came. It doesn’t matter how, but we did it and I’m really happy that the whole team stayed behind me this whole time. It is a little weight off my back and for the whole family. I am just living to do what our family always did, win races and win championships.”
Piquet, whose father Nelson is a three-time Formula One champion, led the first 13 laps, stalked by Kurt Busch early on. Busch, the 2000 truck series rookie of the year, had not started a NASCAR Camping World Truck race since June 30, 2001. Busch eventually took the lead on lap 17, and led a race-high 57 laps.
On lap 56, Piquet was racing Busch hard coming out of Turn 2. The two trucks tapped, with Piquet the victim — or so it seemed at the time. The spin forced Piquet to pit road, which put him on a different pit cycle than the rest of the field. That allowed the Brazilian to run the remainder of the race without a pit stop, a side effect that eventually led to Victory Lane.
Piquet is the first Brazilian to win a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and only the second driver born outside the United States to win a truck race (Canadian Ron Fellows is the other). Piquet joined the series in 2010 after a two-year stint in F1. This 2012 season has been by far his most successful, with victories coming in the K&N Pro Series East, the NASCAR Nationwide Series and, now, the trucks.
“I want to prove to fans that I can win in any car that they put me into,” Piquet said.
Jason White (second) and Dakoda Armstrong (third) each posted career-best finishes. Parker Kligerman, who ran his first race with Red Horse Racing, and James Buescher rounded out the top five.
Piquet’s truck, from the outset, looked like a winning one — until the fateful spin.
“After they revived me,” Carrier joked, “we just had to push reset and take the situation at that moment. [I said] we’re going to regroup here. All the decisions at that point were no-brainers.”
After the spin, Piquet entered the pits for new tires and a tank full of fuel. Carrier deciphered that if Piquet went full-throttle for the remainder of the race, he’d be a lap and a half short on gas.
In other words, Piquet was forced to practice something quite foreign to a race-car driver: slow down. That’s exactly what he did. On lap 90, Piquet turned a lap of 184.952 mph. On lap 100, the final lap, he was going 158.580 mph.
“I knew that Nelson is very good at saving fuel,” Carrier said. “It comes very natural to him.”
The difficult decision — whether to pit or not to pit — did not come easy. With eight laps remaining, Carrier waved off the call for Piquet to enter the pits.
“We kind of just rolled the dice,” Carrier said. “We changed our minds three times in one lap.”
The win moved Piquet up to eighth in points. Timothy Peters, who finished 13th, remains the standings leader, but in a points tie with rookie Ty Dillon. Peters wins the tie-breaker thanks to his victory at Iowa in July.