Road course specialists give Road America race international flavor
Amanda Vincent, NASCAR Correspondent
The NASCAR Nationwide Series heads to Elkhart Lake, Wis., this weekend for Saturday's running of the Sargento 200 at Road America. With a trip to a road course, road course ringers come out of the woodwork, so to speak, as several teams turn to road course specialists to up their positions in the championship owner points standings or simply increase their chances of a race win.
These road course ringers will give the series somewhat of an international flair this weekend. The Brazilian duo of Nelson Piquet Jr. and Miguel Paludo, regulars on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series circuit, will each climb into a Turner Motorsports Chevrolet -- Piquet the No. 30 and Paludo the No. 32.
I have competed in a lot of races with JR Motorsports, and it's been great fun.
Canada will also be represented by a pair of drivers on Saturday. Ron Fellows returns to JR Motorsports to drive the No. 5 Chevrolet and Jacques Villeneuve will climb into the No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge normally driven by Sprint Cup Series regular Brad Keselowski.
Piquet and Paludo won't be the only Latino drivers on hand at Road America for Nationwide Series competition on Saturday. Victor Gonzalez Jr., of Puerto Rico, has been called on to drive the No. 99 RAB Racing Toyota.
In addition, Italian driver Max Papis will make the trip to Wisconsin for Nationwide road course racing. He's slated to drive the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to serve as a teammate to the series' top-two drivers, Elliott Sadler in the No. 2 RCR Chevrolet and Austin Dillon in the No. 3.
Of course, all these aforementioned drivers will blend into the field of series regulars, all trying to claim a win in the first of three road course races this season. These ringers, or specialists, don't often visit NASCAR national level victory lanes, but it has happen.
If past statistics are any indication, Ron Fellows is probably the driver of the group with the best chance of claiming a win on Saturday. After all, it wouldn't be his first Nationwide Series victory.
Fellows is the only driver among those mentioned who has a Nationwide Series race winner's trophy or two in his personal trophy case.
"He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the road courses, and he makes us an instant contender before we ever unload the car," JR Motorsports General Manager Kelley Earnhardt Miller said. "Watching Ron Fellows negotiate a road course is one of the pure joys of racing."
Fellows also has, perhaps, the longest-standing relationship with the team he'll be racing for this weekend. This season marks the fifth year Fellows has driven for JR Motorsports. He has four wins, including a win with JR Motorsports in 2008 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, one of the other road courses on the Nationwide circuit. He drove the No. 5 to a second-place finish at Road America last year.
"I have competed in a lot of races with JR Motorsports, and it's been great fun," Fellows said. "They have an amazing group of people, and we've been competitive at almost all of the races. That's what brings me back and keeps me young."
Fellows will also hear a familiar voice over the radio. Once again, he's been paired with crew chief Tony Eury Sr. That combo turned in a top-five and two top-10 finishes in 2010.
Fellows, though, isn't the only driver who isn't at least somewhat familiar with the organization he'll be racing for come Saturday.
While not having a multi-year relationship with his team, Papis has had time to at least get himself familiar with the RCR operation.
"It's a great opportunity," Papis said of climbing into the No. 33. "I love the fact that after being involved with RCR since January on a testing and coaching level, I will actually get a chance to do what I love, which is to go out and race."
Villeneuve, meanwhile, returns to the organization he raced for in road course events last year. He drove the No. 22 to a third-place finish at Road America in 2011.
"Road America is one of my favorite tracks, and I'm excited to be returning there with Penske Racing," Villeneuve said. "It was a tough race last year, but ultimately we had a strong and exciting run, and I know the No. 22 Discount tire Dodge Challenger will be competitive this weekend."
Several series regulars may be among the favorites to have the best chance to drive into victory lane on Saturday, but at a few of these road course specialists are sure to give them a run for their money and the checkered flag.
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