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Piquet happy to leave F1 controversy behind
Nelson Piquet Jr. is leaving Formula One scandal and politics in his rearview mirror and looking for a fresh start in NASCAR racing.

"I made the decision to start a new step in my career and a new challenge in coming to NASCAR," Piquet said Wednesday at New Smyrna Speedway. "I was just sick and tired of things over there."

The 24-year-old driver was testing the No. 1 Red Horse Racing Toyota truck over New Smyrna's half-mile oval. Toyota rented the track for a dozen race teams to shake down new equipment.

For Piquet, there was no culture shock.

"When I am at a track, it is all the same," he said. "Because I am with my mechanics, engineers, my race car next to me, I can be in China or here, Australia or Brazil. For me, it's the same."

Piquet remains on the rebound after he admitted to deliberately wrecking his F1 race car -- on orders from his team managers -- during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to assist his teammate. The caution period allowed the other Renault driver, Fernando Alonzo, to win the race.

"It doesn't haunt me at all," Piquet said. "I did something that was not 100 percent my fault. I was forced to do it."

Piquet said he was offered a F1 ride for 2010 but declined the offer.

"I could have been there if I wanted to," he said. "A team offered me to be there. I just thought I was sick and tired of the (expletive) and (expletive) over there."

This was Piquet's second test in a race truck owned by Tom DeLoach, who said the Singapore crash was "history and we're moving on. We'll leave that alone."

DeLoach believes Piquet is a true driving talent and the owner is trying to drum up sponsorship money for Piquet to run NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races this season.

"Internationally, Nelson is like Dale Earnhardt Jr.," DeLoach said. "We're excited about him."

NASCAR is ready to embrace the driver, whose father, Nelson Sr., won three F1 championships in the 1980s.

"He's certainly welcome to come race at NASCAR," NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Posten said. "Any incident he's had in the past is not necessarily relevant to NASCAR. He'll be expected to follow the rules like all other competitors."

Toyota helped put the New Smyrna test together for Piquet, according to Toyota Racing Development program manager Laerte Zatta.

"It's very simple," Zatta said. "He's a very talented driver. He can drive anything he sits in.

"We decided to give him an opportunity to come test and join the team next season. He has proven he is fast."

Formula One has long been considered the ultimate racing experience, but NASCAR has emerged as an alternative choice for many competitors.

"For a lot of people who are outside of America, it's a downgrade," Piquet said. "For people who really understand, maybe a downgrade in technology of the car, but in terms of career, how big this sport is, in a lot of ways, it's a tougher step than F1."

"The seriousness and business of both series are very, very high," he said. newsjournalonline.com

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