Boy from Brazil drives truck like a B.J., Clay or Norm


His full name is Nelson Angelo Tamsma Piquet Souto Maior. Now you know why most Brazilian soccer players adopt simple nicknames such as Pele, or Ronaldo, or Ronaldinho. Or my all-time favorite, Fred.

The guy behind the wheel of the No. 30 OmniTracs/Iceberg/tdm transportes Chevy in Saturday night's Smith's 350 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway mostly answers to Nelson Piquet Jr.

It's a name that speaks of auto racing royalty and aristocracy and undulating circuits with iconic names, such as Monza and Monaco and Spa. It was the name of his famous father, Nelson Piquet, who won the prestigious Formula One world driving championship three times.

So a lot of people in auto racing probably can't make the rubber hit the road when it comes to Nelson Piquet Jr. wheeling a bulky pickup truck around NASCAR bullrings in the company of men named B.J., Clay, Norm and Cale. Cale Gale. Not Yarborough.

There were only two three-named drivers in Saturday night's race and they didn't sound aristocratic at all, not like Juan Pablo Montoya, who also came from Formula One.

John Wes Townley hails from Watkinsville, Ga., which is a long way from the streets of Monaco, where Nelson Piquet Jr.'s father raced those nimble Brabhams and Williamses and Lotuses and Benettons - streets that Nelson Piquet Jr. roamed until he was 8 years old, when his mother thought he should live with his famous father in Brazil, because that's good for a boy.

The population of Watkinsville, Ga., is 2,832. It's the county seat of Oconee County. Watkinsville doesn't even have a Piggly Wiggly grocery store. The closest one is in Athens, 8.2 miles away.

Monte Carlo doesn't have a Piggly Wiggly, either. It does have the Salle Garnier, which is an opera house. And the Hotel de Paris, which, you guessed it, is a hotel. It was established in 1864 by Charles III of Monaco, who was a prince and a duke.

Watkinsville, Ga., has the Luxury Inn on South Main Street. It was not founded by princes and dukes, so nightly rates start at $56.80.

The other driver in Saturday night's race with three names was Jennifer Jo Cobb. She's a girl - er, woman, an attractive 39-year-old with fiery red hair from Kansas City, Kan. But Nelson Piquet Jr. dates Brazilian supermodels from Rio and Sao Paulo who are in their early 20s and are long on aerodynamics.

Because Nelson Piquet Jr. drove in Formula One, too.

He drove in 28 Grand Prixs during 2008 and '09 for the Renault team as the No. 2 driver behind Spain's Fernando Alonso, the two-time world champion.

At 24, young Piquet appeared to be following in his famous father's slipstream. He was in the right place at the right time. There was no shortage of supermodels.

That was before the scandal.

That was before young Piquet was ordered to crash his car, which led to Alonso winning a race in Singapore, which led to an investigation, which uncovered a disgraceful bit of subterfuge called "Crashgate."

Team orders are one thing. Crashing a car to fix a race for a teammate is unacceptable, even in the political-driven world of Formula One. Plus, it's sort of risky for the one doing the crashing.

Though a panel exonerated young Piquet for following team orders, it was either take a drive with Force India (or one of those other back-of-the-grid F1 teams) or rebuild his career in America.

I honestly thought by now he'd be driving at Indianapolis, because a lot of Brazilians have found fame or fortune or - in the case of Helio Castroneves - a dance partner at the Indy 500.

But I suppose there is a certain charm about a boy from Brazil wheeling a pickup truck around places called Rockingham and Martinsville and Bristol - not the one in England, the one in Tennessee.

(Even if there now are two boys from Brazil doing it: Miguel Paludo of Nova Prata, Rio Grande do Sol - cities in Brazil come with multiple names, too - started seventh and finished 11th on Saturday.)

Piquet Jr., who won this year's truck race at Michigan in a fuel run and also won a Nationwide Series race on the road course at Road America in Wisconsin in June, started 13th Saturday - and finished first. He beat every B.J. and Clay and Norm and Cale they put in front of him.

The boy from Brazil drove to the top of the track, where he brushed the wall, before driving to the bottom of the track, where he passed Matt Crafton in Turn 2 on the last lap. Afterward, he said it was the best win of his career. He said that after winning at Michigan, too.

After he climbed from his truck, Nelson Piquet Jr. said he "sticked it in there" in Turn 2, and then he didn't sound like he was from Monte Carlo anymore, or from Brazil, or from one of those other countries that have princes and dukes. He sounded like he was from Rockingham or Martinsville or Bristol.

The one in Tennessee.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

 

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