The Lady in Black is Not Kind to Nelson Piquet Jr.
DARLINGTON, March 14, 2011: Nelson Piquet Jr. came into the weekend at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway with the goal of building and improving upon his top-15 finish at Phoenix International Raceway. Unfortunately, like many other trucks in the Too Tough to Tame 200, the No. 8 Chevrolet Silverado fell victim to the Lady in Black's precarious personality, resulting in a 32nd-place finish for the young rookie driver.
Following a strong qualifying effort earlier in the day, Piquet Jr. took the green flag from the ninth starting spot. It didn't take long for the Lady in Back to show her colors, collecting her first victims in the first turn of the race with a seven-truck wreck. With all three Kevin Harvick Inc. (KHI) drivers avoiding the carnage, Piquet Jr. restarted on lap five from the 10th position.
Piquet Jr. immediately felt that the No. 8 Chevrolet was turning too tightly and slipped back to the 12th position by the time the second yellow flag waved on lap 15 for a single-truck incident. Piquet Jr. relayed to crew chief Chris Carrier that the truck was too tight all the way around the egg-shaped oval, but it was too early in the race to bring the truck to pit road. Restarting on lap 19, Piquet Jr. continued to battle his truck's handling until the next caution on lap 26. Running 16th, Carrier called the No. 8 to pit road for four tires, fuel, as well as an air-pressure adjustment and spring rubber removal.
Restarting in the 14th position on lap 31 after a solid pit stop, Piquet Jr. initially thought his handling problems were resolved, but 10 laps later he felt the truck tightening up again in the turns as he slid back to 16th. On lap 51, the No. 8 was so difficult to turn that Piquet Jr. scraped the outside wall, crinkling the right front fender. Piquet Jr. had the opportunity to repair the minor damage on lap 59 when the yellow flag waved for debris. Entering the pits in 17th, Carrier called for four tires, fuel, an air-pressure adjustment and a quick fender fix. The No. 8 returned to the track in 19th.
Green-flag racing resumed on lap 63, and Piquet Jr. was able to navigate up to 13th by lap 70. Now on a campaign to enter the top 10, Piquet Jr. was picking off another one of his competitors on lap 73 when the No. 29 truck of Parker Kligerman made contact with the right side of the No. 8 truck. The resulting damage caused the KHI machine to slide up the track, hitting the outside wall hard. At the same time, two trucks behind Piquet Jr. also wrecked, bringing out the yellow flag.
Piquet Jr. pitted three times under yellow with the crew working fervently to repair the heavy right-side damage. The team's quick work kept Piquet Jr. on the lead lap under caution, and he took the green flag on lap 79 in 27th place. Unfortunately, the damage sustained from the contact with the wall caused the No. 8 truck to run slower than the leaders, and within only a few laps the race leader was in the truck's mirrors. Carrier made the call to bring his driver back to pit road for further repairs and readied the pit crew for a green-flag stop.
As the team worked to make further repairs, a single-truck incident brought out the caution on lap 90. The team took advantage of the yellow flag, making four separate pit stops to fix the truck. When the field went green on lap 96, Piquet Jr. was scored in the 30th position, four laps down to the leaders. However, it appeared the truck was sufficiently repaired and that the team could make it to the end of the race and pick up multiple positions.
Unfortunately, the hope of making it to the checkered flag was lost on lap 98 when the right front tire failed and the No. 8 drove hard into the turn four wall. Bouncing off the wall, Piquet Jr. collected the No. 20 of Johanna Long, who lost steering abilities and subsequently ran into the No. 4 of Ricky Carmichael. Following a seven-minute red flag for cleanup, Piquet Jr. was directed into the garage where the team worked tirelessly for the remaining 49 laps to try to repair the truck and return to the track. However, the heavy damage was too extensive to repair and the No. 8 was ultimately scored in the 32nd position.
"Although this definitely wasn't the kind of night we were hoping for, I'm still proud of what we accomplished here at Darlington," said Piquet Jr. following the race. "We made great strides between practice and qualifying, we had a top-10 starting position, and we were improving the truck throughout the race. The crew worked very hard trying to get us back out on the track to pick up a few positions, and unfortunately we just couldn't fix it. I feel like I learned a lot, and hopefully we'll have a much better race in Martinsville."
The Truck Series has two off weekends before returning to the track at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on April 2nd.