Piquet Jr. wins Nationwide race
AP Sports Writer
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (AP) – Nelson Piquet Jr. held the lead on a late restart, then pulled away from the rest of the field Saturday to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America.
The Brazilian, a former Formula One driver and the son of three-time F1 champion Nelson Sr., became a winner in his third career Nationwide start after starting the race from pole position. Piquet’s extensive road racing experience paid off at the four-mile, 14-turn road course that winds through the hills of central Wisconsin.
Michael McDowell was second, followed by Ron Fellows, Max Papis and Sam Hornish Jr.
Jacques Villeneuve collided with Danica Patrick on the last lap as the two drivers were battling for fourth place, causing Patrick’s car to spin out. Villeneuve finished sixth, while Patrick recovered and finished 12th.
Villeneuve, the 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner and 1997 Formula One champion, dominated the middle stages of the race but spun out on lap 33 and lost several positions. He had words with a member of Patrick’s crew on pit road after the race.
“We were racing hard, and I wasn’t even fighting with Danica, I was fighting with Max Papis,” Villeneuve said in a radio interview. “And just before the braking (zone), 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. So by the time I was on the racetrack again, I was going a little bit slower than Danica. That’s all.”
Papis said he enjoyed being part of a heated battle with Patrick in the closing laps.
“Sorry she got a little bit tangled up there, but that’s racing,” Papis said.
Patrick ran with the leaders for most of the afternoon – and even momentarily led the race when she passed Miguel Paludo on lap 21, only to give it back a few seconds later when she slightly overshot a turn and got passed. Patrick also shot up to second place on a late restart but couldn’t hold the spot, fading slightly before getting involved in the incident with Villeneuve.
Patrick got off to a quick start, passing Justin Allgaier for second place on lap 12 before a caution flag came out for T.J. Bell’s spinout. Several drivers pitted, giving the lead back to McDowell, but Max Papis took it away from it on the subsequent restart.
On lap 21, Patrick passed Paludo for the lead in Turn 3. But her car went slightly wide in Turn 5, and she was passed by Paludo and two other cars. Paludo pitted, giving the lead to Villeneuve.
Villeneuve was out front for the middle stages of the race until another caution came out for Kenny Habul’s crash on lap 31. That allowed most drivers to make what was expected to be their final pit stops of the day.
Patrick came out of the pits first, followed by Villeneuve, and they lined up for the next restart behind Hornish Jr. and Allgaier, who stayed on the track instead of pitting. Papis was penalized for failing to remove equipment during a pit stop.
Villeneuve spun in Turn 5 after the next restart. He was able to continue but fell all the way to 22nd.
Allgaier then slid through Turn 5 on lap 37, bringing out another caution. Kurt Busch had a lengthy stop under caution, with crew members checking damage on his car.
Busch, who also is driving Sunday in the Sprint Cup Series race in Sonoma, Calif., was one of five drivers who had to drop to the tail end of the field at the start of the race for making unapproved adjustments to their cars. He finished eighth.