Kevin Harvick Inc. (KHI) rookie-of-the-year contender Nelson Piquet Jr. steered his way to his career-best finish and first top five in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with a second-place finish at Nashville Superspeedway on Friday night. Although it was his first trip to the 1.333-mile track, Piquet Jr. piloted the No. 8 Qualcomm/Autotrac Chevrolet Silverado like a veteran in only his fifth Truck Series start this season.
Piquet Jr. started the day off on the right foot, with two solid practice sessions in his first laps on the concrete oval. He notched his career-best qualifying effort of fourth on Friday afternoon, and lined up in the second row when the green flag waved. As the Bully Hill Vineyards 200 got underway, Piquet Jr. settled into the seventh position making his way around the track and radioed in that the truck was a bit tight, but was overall happy with the KHI Chevrolet.
By lap 35, crew chief Chris Carrier relayed to the rookie that he was running laps as quick, and quicker, than race leader Kyle Busch. The Brazilian driver continued to pick up speed as he logged laps, and started to catch up to the leading pack of competitors. The first round of green-flag pit stops started around lap 50 and Piquet Jr. brought the No. 8 Chevrolet down pit road for four tires and fuel. Pleased with the handling of the truck, the crew made minor adjustments in the speedy pit stop.
The yellow flag was brought out for the first time of the event on lap 57, with the No. 8 sitting eighth. As the field resumed to green-flag racing, Piquet Jr. continued to gain valuable learning experience showing lap consistency. By lap 98, Piquet Jr. was tracking down KHI teammate Elliott Sadler for the fifth position.
When the yellow flag waved again for the second time at lap 101, Carrier encouraged Piquet Jr. that he was continuing to pick up speed and was at the time the fastest truck on the track. Sitting in the fifth position at the time of caution, Piquet Jr. brought the Silverado down pit road for the second and final pit stop of the night for four tires, a small air-pressure adjustment and fuel.
Racing resumed with the No. 8 in the seventh position on lap 106, and Piquet Jr. showed his on-track education continued to progress as he worked on his restarts, picking up three positions placing him into the top-five rounding lap 107. While racing the No. 33 driver, Austin Dillon spun below the No. 8, barely grazing the KHI vehicle before spinning. The Qualcomm Autotrac Chevrolet did not sustain any damage, and Piquet Jr. continued to look ahead at the last segment of the race.
The green flag dropped on lap 112 with Piquet Jr. in the fourth position. Coached by Carrier, Piquet Jr. remained smooth in his entries and exits on the concrete surface. An incident involving the No. 60, 62 and No. 63 trucks brought out another caution on lap 136. With fuel mileage part of race strategy, Carrier called for Piquet Jr. to stay out on the track during the caution. With nine laps to go, the green flag waved with Piquet Jr. holding steady in the fourth position.
The final caution of the day waved on lap 143, setting up a three-lap shootout for the field. "Be on your game on the restart," said Carrier. "You are doing a great job. This is a three-lap race, so be smooth continue doing what you've been doing. Your lap times are continually faster than the three trucks in front of you."
With KHI teammate Ron Hornaday leading the field to green, Piquet Jr. looked to have the opportunity to get a good restart. The top-four quickly fell into line and Piquet Jr. looked to make the most of his opportunity. In an exciting final half-lap, Piquet Jr. was able to capitalize and pass second-place Timothy Peters and Hornaday on the high side of the track.
Kyle Busch grabbed the victory, with Piquet Jr. bringing home a second-place finish. The finish moves Piquet Jr. up eight spots in the Driver Point standings to the 17th position.