24 June 2012
Nationwide: Piquet Jr. seals first NASCAR win
That complicated the pit stop strategy no end: Papis and McDowell decided to come in along with Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier and many others, and suddenly Danica Patrick was right back in the frame, starting on the front row alongside Miguel Paludo, while McDowell was now down in 19th place - but eyeing up a one-stop only strategy to get to the finish, excepting a repeat of last year's endless series of green-white-chequered finishes.
Patrick once again applied the pressure on the car in front and it seemed to pay off on lap 21 when Paludo made an error and slipped slightly too wide, allowing Patrick to take the lead. But she then over-committed into turn 5 and not only let Paludo past but also Jacques Villeneuve, Nelson Piquet Jr. and Ron Fellows.
Further back, other cars were having their moments too: TJ Bell went for his second off-track excursion of the day but managed to keep the car going and rejoined without causing a full course caution; and Kurt Busch - still getting used to the car after having been absent in Sonoma on Cup race duty on Friday and jetting over to Wisconsin overnight - also drifted too wide and had to fight to be allowed back on the racing line.
Paludo was in onto pit road on lap 22, which dropped him down to 24th and handed the lead over to Villeneuve with Piquet Jr. around two seconds behind him ahead of Fellows. That promoted Patrick back to fourth ahead of Cole Whitt, with Kurt Busch now sixth, Brian Scott in seventh just ahead of Papis and McDowell, and Sam Hornish Jr. rounding out the top ten ahead of Allgaier and Stenhouse Jr. as the race passed half distance.
The next caution came out on lap 31 when Australian road racer Kenny Habul suffered a brake failure and went off into the gravel and embedded the nose of the #75 into the tyre wall at turn 5 at the foot of the hill.
around two laps too too soon for the ideal pit strategy for the majority of the field, but still too good an opportunity for almost most of the field which duly filed in.
Danica Patrick emerged from pit lane first and slotted into third behind non-stoppers Hornish Jr., Allgaier and Paludo. However there was bad news for Papis, who ended up repeating Hornish Jr.'s earlier mishap with the refuelling can and thereby incurring a drive-thru penalty for the restart.
There mixed fortunes for two of the other road couse specialists when the track went green again: Piquet Jr. quickly executed a lovely couple of moves to leap up to third place, but at the same time Villeneuve was rear-ended by McDowell that turned him into a spin at turn 5 and left pointing in the wrong direction as the field streamed past him. By the time he was able to recover and rejoin the line he was well down the running order: just as well that TJ Bell chose that moment for another spin, which this time left him beached in gravel at the carousel between turns 9 and 10, and forced an immediate return to safety car conditions.
Paludo and Hornish Jr. were onto pit lane under the caution, and indeed a surprising number of cars followed them in - including Villeneuve and Papis who dropped to 22nd and 23rd as a consequence, all of them seemingly keen to top off their fuel to the maximum extent. That left Piquet Jr. and Allgaier ahead of McDowell and Patrick at the head of the field for the restart, McDowell moving swiftly into second behind Piquet Jr. who successfully secured the lead while Patrick had her hands full fending off Kurt Busch and Ron Fellows for fourth.
Allgaier was struggling, however, and quickly dropped back to sixth behind Patrick, Busch and Fellows; then on lap 37 his brakes locked up on the run down the hill into turn 5 and he was unable to make the turn, skating off into the deep gravel trap and receiving a hit from an unsuspecting Kurt Busch who had been making the corner in a normal fashion little suspecting the dive bomber cutting through from behind. That brought out the fifth caution of the day while the #31 was retrieved, and Busch also needed to come into the pits for a check over the collision damage.
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