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ELKHART LAKE, WIS. (AP) - Nelson Piquet Jr. was surging with confidence after winning the Nationwide race at Road America a year ago, optimistic that his success would lead to a full-time ride in NASCAR’s second-tier series.
Now Piquet returns to the scene of his biggest stock-car racing moment still trying to find his footing on the next rung up the ladder.
“Obviously, I’m frustrated with our results,” Piquet said Friday. “We’re not where I wanted to be.”
Piquet, the first Brazilian to win a race in one of NASCAR’s major national series and the son of a three-time Formula One champion, ended up getting the full-time Nationwide ride he was looking for this year. He moved up a level with Turner Scott Motorsports after driving in the third-tier Camping World Truck series full time last year.
He enters Saturday’s race a respectable 13th in the Nationwide points standings, but he has had a pair of races end in wrecks while managing only one top-10 finish _ ninth place at Michigan last week.
“I think part of it is because it was a last-minute deal and we had to put a team together very quickly two weeks before Daytona,” Piquet said.
That hurts, Piquet said, given the level of competitiveness in the series.
“Obviously, we’re fighting against Cup teams, so I don’t think we have the best cars out there,” Piquet said. “But I think if you get a team that works very well together, we can be competitive sometimes.”
It’s telling, perhaps, that Piquet’s most notable moment this season was his infamous below-the-belt kick to fellow competitor Brian Scott after an altercation at Richmond International Raceway in April.
If Piquet is to put that ugly moment behind him with another win this weekend, he might have to do it in the rain.
Lightning in the area interrupted the Nationwide practice schedule Friday afternoon _ drivers ended up practicing part of the afternoon on rain tires then changed to slicks as the track dried out _ and there is a chance for more showers during Saturday’s race at the scenic four-mile road course in Central Wisconsin.
That brings up the possibility of racing in the rain on specially designed grooved rain tires, something fairly common in other forms of road racing, but almost unheard-of in NASCAR beyond a memorable 2008 Nationwide race in Montreal.
AJ Allmendinger said a wet race might be a blast for fans, but not so much fun for drivers.
“It’ll be entertaining for people to watch, because it’ll be insane,” Allmendinger said.
Michael McDowell has a road racing background and doesn’t mind the idea of driving in the rain, but has some concerns about other drivers who don’t have experience in wet conditions.
“There’s a lot of guys that don’t have any experience,” McDowell said. “And because of that, when you have heavy rains and lots of mist and lots of spray coming off the cars and you barrel down into Turn 5 and all the guy sees is a red light, we’re going to have a caution every couple of laps.”
Said Nationwide series points leader Regan Smith: “I think, at this point, I’d prefer that it stays dry and don’t worry about it. It’s tough enough learning a new race track.”
Piquet wouldn’t mind rain, but knows he’ll have a tough time repeating his victory either way.
After spending most of his career in open-wheel road racing _ including a stint in Formula One, which ended in scandal after he deliberately crashed in a race to help his teammate, allegedly because he was ordered to do so by his team _ Piquet decided to try stock car racing.
Beyond his Road America Nationwide win last year, he also had a successful 2012 in the Trucks Series, winning twice and finishing seventh in the points.
To help him take the next step, Piquet hopes his team can get its chemistry issues sorted out.
“It’s frustrating, because we know we have a car that can be running constantly, let’s say, in the top 10 _ but we’re struggling to get close to the top 10,” Piquet said. “(I’m) trying to give my best, and obviously I’m pushing the team as much as I can for them to get these issues sorted and try to get better.”
By David A. Clarke Jr.
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