Former F1 driver Nelson Piquet Jr. proved that he's really getting the hang of these ovals, by becoming only the third driver this year to notch up a repeat win in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series after claiming his second win of the year, this time at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the Smith's 350.
"It feels great, we really needed this win," said the Brazilian driver. "Probably the best win of my career. For sure, [it's one of the] top-five moments of my career."
Piquet had been starting from 13th place on the grid for the race, which was led to the green flag by polesitter Joey Coulter and fellow front row man Timothy Peters but which immediately hit trouble with a caution for a spin by veteran driver Todd Bodine in turn 4. Peters was just in the lead when the yellows came out.
Travis Pastrana was also in the field, making his Truck Series début at Las Vegas after a number of Nationwide Series starts in 2012, but he too hit early problems with a spin in turn 4 on lap 7 shortly after the restart. There was a third early caution for yet another turn 4 spinner - this time Chris Lafferty - on lap 15, meaning that half of the first 18 laps were run under caution.
Finally there were a dozen laps of green flag running, finally allowing Coulter to reclaim the lead he'd lost at the very start and Ty Dillon to move up into second place. But a fourth caution appeared on lap 30 and it was Lafferty the cause once more, this time having a more emphatic head-on accident into the SAFER barrier which put him out of the race. He was far from the first retirement, however, with ten trucks having already exited the race through assorted technical issues by this point including Ron Hornaday Jr. with an engine failure.
This latest caution enabled a first round of pit stops, and fuel-only stops put Parker Kligerman into the lead for the restart on lap 35 alongside James Buescher, although it was Bryan Silas who was credited with the lead the first lap under green before Kligerman stamped his authority on the race and started to pull away for what would be a mercifully uneventful 34-lap run at the front after the stop-start proceedings at the beginning of the race.
Kligerman's comfortable run at the front would come to an end when he was handed a drive-thru penalty for speeding on pit road during a green flag sequence of stops on lap 71, just before the race was put back under caution on lap 77 for debris at turn 2. While those yet to pit were able to do so now, Kligerman got his lap back thanks to the wavearound, although it was Joey Coulter who was now back in charge of the race again.
Coulter had to ward off a challenge from his Richard Childress Racing team mate Ty Dillon at the restart before he could find any comfort in the lead ahead of Matt Crafton and Nelson Piquet, but once he did so he would remain out in front through to lap 103 when the next caution of the afternoon came out for Brennan Newberry. With only just over 40 laps to go this was a good time for everyone to pit, but Ty Dillon ended up colliding with David Mayhew on pit road that did sufficient damage to force him to come back to his pit stall to have some crumpled bodywork ripped away from his punctured left-front tyre.
Mayhew led at the restart, but it was Nelson Piquet who had the pace to take charge of the race when the green flags came out. It was Piquet's second run at the front of the day, having also briefly inherited the lead when Kilgerman made his earlier penalty-fated pit stop. This time he was to remain out in front for all but one of the next 24 laps.
That included a lengthy caution for a three-car wreck on lap 116 involving Justin Lofton, Johnny Sauter and Miguel Palado on the frontstretch. It started with Palado making contact with Lofton, who was turned and hit hard enough by Sauter to launch his truck completely off the ground. Lofton and Sauter were done for the day, but Palado got away lightly and was able to continue running.
There was also a seventh caution of the day for Parker Kligerman had a hard scrape against the wall in turn 2 on lap 127 which put the former race leader out of the event, and the restart on lap 131 enabled Coulter to get the better of Piquet and take back the lead of the race. However, neither truck was string enough to hold off a surging Matt Crafton, who surged past them and into the lead on lap 132 looking increasingly comfortable for the race win especially when no further cautions materialised to affect the flow of the race.
Piquet remained close behind Crafton for the final run to the chequered flag, and as the end of the race approached he had a plan for getting past Crafton for the win.
"He was running high all the time," recalled Piquet. "When I saw him running up, I started attacking the bottom for a few laps," he said, insisting it had never been his intention to leave it right now to the wire as it turned out. "I was trying [to pass him] every lap, it wasn't because that was the last lap."
Piquet dived deep to the bottom of the track and pulled off the pass before the line to claim his second series win, but he admitted that "It was for a win or wrecking!
"I have no idea what happened," he added. "I had to give it a last try, I stuck it in there and God gave me a little bit more grip on the inside and we made it."
Crafton was understandably unhappy with losing the win in the last few seconds like that: "That is just the hardest way to lose a race," he said. "I will not sleep for a week. I'll be thinking what I could have done different.
"That sucks, it plain and simple sucks," he added. "We had a great truck and were really good there at the end. He had a real good run there at the end ... but my God, that's a tough one to lose on the last lap."
Joey Coulter followed the pair home in third ahead of Brendan Gaughan, and Todd Bodine recovered from his first lap spin to finish in fifth place ahead of James Buescher. Timothy Peters fought back from losing a lap with an unscheduled pit stop for a vibration on lap 52 to finish in eighth place.
Finishing two spots ahead of Ty Dillon keeps Peters in the hunt for the 2012 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, title, but he's still 24pts off the back of Dillon in the standings. Dillon's main rival continues to be James Buescher, who closes to within 1pt of the rookie in the standings.
"Coming off pit road, I really don't know what happened," admitted the rookie, frustrated at having sequandered the race-winning opportunity of "an awesome truck tonight" as he described the #3's handling at Vegas. "I'm proud of my team because we battled back. It hurts a little bit, but we still have the points lead."
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