Piquet gets first NASCAR win
The first appearance in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East action proved to be more than productive as Nelson Piquet Jr. won the inaugural Widow Wax 125 presented by SealWrap Repair Tape from the pole Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Piquet held off a hard-charging Ryan Blaney for the victory in the season-opener for the series. Ryan Gifford finished third.
This was the first NASCAR victory for Piquet, a regular in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and first win for a Brazilian in K&N Pro Series East history.
“It’s an amazing victory. It’s just good to accomplishing something you’ve been trying to do for a long time,” Piquet said. “I came from open wheel, so it’s very, very different kind of racing.
“The K&N Series is a strong series, but obviously my goal is to be in Cup one day, but we’re going to have to take baby steps. That’s how it’s going to start – win here, win in Trucks, then in Nationwide and slowly we’ll work up there,” Piquet said.
Driving for X Team Racing, the native of Brasilia, Brazil was the fastest across a pair of practice sessions on Friday and led the first 35 laps Saturday evening at the “World’s Fastest Half Mile” following his Coors Light Pole-winning run. Piquet inherited the lead from Corey LaJoie, who cut a tire on Lap 101 and had to come to pit road.
A late-race caution set up a green-white checker finish for Piquet and Blaney at the front, and Piquet used his best restart of the evening to gain the advantage that Blaney couldn’t overcome.
“We stayed in control most of the race. Just in the middle of the race we had a little issue – starting to get a bit loose – and I was also probably not at my best on restarts and giving space,” Piquet said. “I managed to get my act together at the end of the race, get my positions back and hold it, and bring it to Victory Lane.”
“If we would have had about seven or eight laps left on that restart, we could have had something for Nelson, but he was definitely a lot better than us on cold tires,” Blaney said.
Although Piquet got off to a fast start, Elliott worked his way up from the 10th starting position to take the race lead on Lap 36. The second year driver held the lead until accidental contact from Blaney in Turn 2 on Lap 76 resulted in both cars falling to the middle of the running order – Elliott had to come to pit road for brief repairs while Blaney was penalized for not maintaining minimum speed during the caution period.
“I got into [Turn] 1 way too hot, way too close to him, and just touched his left rear and unfortunately spun him out,” said Blaney of his contact with Chase Elliott. “Then I accidently hit the kill switch [under caution], or something in the wiring was messed up, because I hit the kill switch again and it fired back up. Two things I did wrong right there.”
While LaJoie led from Laps 77-100, Blaney and Elliott methodically moved back through the field, but Piquet’s prowess on the day proved to be insurmountable. The closing run to the checkered flag gave Piquet a race-high 62 laps led.
Andrew Smith was fourth, followed by Derek Ramstrom’s career-best run in fifth. Ben Kennedy, Chad Finchum, Michael McGuire, Kyle Larson and Elliott brought home the top 10. It was the series debut for true rookies McGuire and Larson.
Action sports star Travis Pastrana finished 12th in his return to NASCAR competition while LaJoie ended up two laps down in 22nd following his late-race misfortune.
The Widow Wax 125 provided the second victory for X Team Racing, which entered the series in 2011 and focuses on providing opportunities for Latin drivers. It also marked the 15th triumph in a row for Toyota dating to the 2010 season.
The K&N Pro Series East will return to action on March 31 at Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway with the Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150.