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Nationwide: Piquet Jr. seals first NASCAR win

Lap 39 saw a good restart for Piquet Jr. but a poor one for McDowell who temporarily lost positions to Fellows and Patrick. There was the now-familiar jostling the first time through turn 5, which ended up with Nationwide points leader Elliott Sadler being spun across the front of the #22 Dodge driven by Jaques Villeneuve, although Sadler was able to resume and head back for repairs in pit lane without triggering yet another caution. Brad Sweet followed Jason Bowles off the track into the gravel trap at turn 12 on lap 42 and displayed all his impressive dirt track racing skills to keep the wheels turning without getting beached, to power his way back out again without triggering a caution.

Piquet Jr. now had a four second lead over McDowell who was back in second ahead of Fellows, while Max Papis had once again proving his road race credentials by driving his way back up to fourth place ahead of Danica Patrick through all the pit stops and restarts. Patrick was holding position behind him and the two soon collected company as Brian Scott, Sam Hornish Jr. and Jacques Villeneuve all crowded onto the scene with five laps to go.

At this point, the history of races at Road America dictated that there should have been a frenzy of rapid cautions - which was just what Piquet Jr. didn't need wiping out his huge lead at the front over McDowell. It seemed to be coming to pass when John Young slowed on track with two laps remaining, but he managed to roll the car just far enough to get it into a safe run off area without the need for a caution after all; it seemed that all Piquet Jr. was going to have to worry about was not running out of fuel, which was marginal.

The most on-track excitement was being generated by that close-running pack led by Papis and Patrick competing for fourth: the two of them traded places, but each time Danica got ahead Max was able to dive-bomb her through turn 5 and retake the position. Finally, as the white flag came out for Piquet Jr., Patrick made the pass stick and Papis had to let it go in order to hold off a lunging Villeneuve: Max helped Jacques find the grass verge, which upset the #22's braking down the hill into turn 5, and Villeneuve had to find some other way of stopping the car in time to make the corner. That something ended up being the rear end of the #7, and Patrick was punted off into the gravel. he was able to extract herself, but she tumbled from fourth to 12th by the chequered flag through no fault of her own. Papis used the opportunity to steal back fourth place with Hornish Jr. also nipping past Villeneuve for fifth.

"We were racing hard, and I wasn't even fighting with Danica, I was fighting with Max Papis," Villeneuve told reporters after the race. "I guess he was wanting to cross over and go to the inside of Danica, and he probably didn't know I was there - so he pushed me into the grass. And you don't slow down that much in the grass."

For his part, Papis said: "Sorry she got a little bit tangled up there, but that's racing."

But crucially, there were still no caution flags: the race was done the minute Piquet Jr. cruised down the main straight and claimed the chequered flag, his first-ever national-level NASCAR Series win since coming to the US after his F1 career went up in smoke.

The race had been too complex strategy-wise and too full of strong road course 'ringers' like Papis and Villeneuve (not to mention accomplished turns from McDowell, Patrick and Hornish Jr. as well) to be able to truthfully describe Piquet Jr.'s win as 'dominant', at least not until that final restart after which he led 17 laps straight, more than anyone else all afternoon; but it had been a smart, strong sensible, error-free run entirely deserving of victory.

“I struggled a little bit in the beginning. But when I got some clean air, I took control,” he summed up in victory lane. The mega-wattage of the young Brazilian's smile could probably power a small city for weeks.

Hornish Jr. ended up as the top-placed Nationwide Series regular, with Allgaier recovering to tenth ahead of a nondescript Stenhouse in 11th. Championship leader Elliott Sadler slipped to 15th place by the end, but he still extended his points lead in the standings as second-placed Austin Dillon was battling mechanical gremlins all afternoon and did well to finish in 18th.

This weekend's race also saw the first return to duty for TriStar Motorsports driver Eric McClure, who has been sidelined since his crash at the start of May in Taladega, when his #14 car suffered an extremely violent head-on impact with the inside SAFER barrier. Not a road course specialist, he had a fairly anonymous afternoon of it at Road America on his way to 21st place - which probably was just what he wanted after the high drama of his last race outing: "For me, coming back, I'm not scared of the race car. I think they're as safe as they've ever been, and I think I proved it," he insisted.


Related Pictures

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Nelson Piquet Jr. celebrates in Victory Lane at Bristol. (Photo Credit: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Nelson Piquet Jr. claims pole position in the Inaugural Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200 at Rockingham Speedway. April 2012. [Photo credit: Rainer Ehrhardt/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Nelson Piquet Jr., driver of the #30 Qualcomm / Autotrac Chevrolet, celebrates with the Coors Light Pole Award after posting the fastest speed (109.516 mph, 133.066 secs.) during qualifying for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sargento 200 at Road America on June 23, 2012 in Elkhart Lake, Wisc. (Photo Credit: Tyler Barrick/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Nelson Piquet Jr. ahead of qualifying for the Inaugural Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200 at Rockingham Speedway. April 2012. [Photo credit: Rainer Ehrhardt/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Nelson Piquet Jr. celebrates with his team in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sargento 200 at Road America on June 23 in Elkhart Lake, Wisc. (Photo Credit: Tyler Barrick/Getty Images for NASCAR)
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Series championship contenders Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, take part in pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race with a burnout after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race in Victory Lane after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race with his team after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates with the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the series championship and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, and Daniel Suarez, driver of the #18 ARRIS Toyota, lead the field on the first lap of the NASCAR XFINITY Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
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Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, qualifies for thirteenth position Friday, November 20, 2015 for Sunday`s Championship 4, the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Harvick will be joined by Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS and Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS to compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, qualifies for eleventh position Friday, November 20, 2015 for Sunday`s Championship 4, the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Truex, Jr. will be joined by Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS to compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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