Nelson Piquet Jr. is finally a full NASCAR national level race winner in the US, after claiming victory in only his third appearance in the Nationwide Series in the Sargento 200 road course race at Elkhart Lake's 4.048-mile, 14-turn Road America track.
Piquet Jr. becomes the first Brazilian and only the fifth driver born outside the US to win a major NASCAR event, after having previously won a race
in the regional K&N Pro Series East series in March at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“The car was great," he said after claiming the chequered flag at the end of two and a half hours of tough and physical road course racing. "I just had to make sure I didn't make any mistakes."
Having earlier won pole position for the Sargento 200 - itself a first for him at this level - Piquet Jr. got a good start to take the lead in a largely incident-green beginning to the 50-lap race, but it was clear that the more experienced Michael McDowell in second place had the faster car and sure enough the #18 soon passed for the lead going up the hill toward turn 6 on lap 3.
With the four-mile length of this road course, pit stop strategy here is totally different from anywhere else on the NASCAR calendar since it is possible to come in for a stop and not lose a lap. That opened up an unusual strategy for Michael Annett and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who both came in at the end of the first lap to top up on fuel, in order that they could get back out on track in clear air away from any incidents that might break out in the main pack.
Sam Hornish Jr. was in next time around, although that didn't work so well as he ended up dragging his refuelling can out of the pit stall as he pulled away and had to serve a drive-thru; a couple of laps later it was Jacques Villeneuve and Kurt Busch on pit road, and then next time by it was the two leaders McDowell and Piquet Jr. in for their first stops.
That left Canadian road ace Ron Fellows in charge of the race, but he suffered a left front puncture and ended up losing a huge amount of time limping around the track back to pit lane; Brian Scott inherited the lead ahead of Justin Allgaier, Danica Patrick and Cole Whitt who had all yet to stop; Patrick was putting her road racing experience to good use by pressuring Allgaier into a small mistake, locking up his brakes and giving the #7 an open invitation to go past.
But this set of leaders were somewhat undone when a caution came out on lap 13 for a spin by TJ Bell at turn 14: they would now have to come in for their stop after the field had closed up again, costing them a number of positions in the process.
At the restart, McDowell was back in front but sharing the front row with 'Mad' Max Papis, who was always going to do his level best to snatch the lead at the first opportunity - and he duly pulled it off going into turn 3, soon pulling out a couple of car lengths over McDowell but not allowed to escape any further than that before a new caution came out on lap 17 for debris on the main straight.