On Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway, Nelson Piquet Jr. earned his fourth top-10 finish of the season in his NASCAR Nationwide Series rookie campaign, coming to the start/finish line in 10th. It was his first top-10 finish since his seventh-place results at Watkins Glen International.
Driver of the No. 30 Qualcomm Chevrolet for Turner Scott Motorsports, Piquet could hardly walk two feet through the paddock last month at the Glen earlier this month without a fan stopping him for a quick photo on their cellphone or to oblige with an autograph.
It's a similar scene everywhere the second-generation racer competes. The 28-year old Brazilian has a huge international following from his native South America to Europe -- where he raced in Formula One -- and now in America, where he is making his way up through the NASCAR ranks.
The two-time Camping World Truck Series winner got his first win in the Nationwide Series last year at Elkhart Lake, Wisc.
NASCAR.com sat down with Piquet to see how important technology is to keeping him connected to his massive fan base and to his performance each week behind the wheel of the Qualcomm Chevy.
How do you stay in touch with your friends and fans overseas?
Piquet: Pretty much the same way I stay in touch with friends here. With my friends in Brazil, I use my mobile phone and all kinds of applications. I think the one I use the most is "Whatsapp" because it's free texting and everyone seems to have it over there. It's not big yet here in America but everybody over there is using it. I also keep in contact with social media. It's on the tip of my hands on the phone all the time.
To that point, you were one of the first drivers to embrace Twitter and your following is along the same lines as NASCAR champions Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. How do you use social media?
Piquet: You have periods, you know good days and better days. It's a tool where fans feel closer to their idols and I think it's important. You get more fans (using it) and you find that you can show your character out there more. It's not just by winning races but showing your opinion on things and what your character is. Twitter I've been using since 2008 or 2009 when I was racing in F1. In the beginning, it was a push for me to use it and then I got used to it.
How connected to your fans on social media do you feel?
Piquet: It depends on the period. This year, with average results it feels not so much then when you get better results it seems to come back. Last year seemed to be better, this year obviously, with average results it's not as good. It depends on your results basically. The better results you have, the more people you have talking to you and asking you questions. Unfortunately, this year hasn't been what we expected so hopefully next year will be different.
NASCAR has become so advanced technologically speaking. How do you use technology and communication during a race weekend?
Piquet: During the race, obviously, the crew chief and engineers look into lap times, and do calculations and let us know how many laps left we have of fuel, when we need to pit. A few little things that give us information inside the car through the radio which gives us insight on how much extra we should push or how much we are lacking in speed, things like that. The technology side of it is more for the guys on the pit wall who have all the numbers and pass it along in the race through the radio.
Are there any particular uses of technology that help you prepare leading up to race or perhaps have paid immediate dividends?
Piquet: There's a lot of data the engineers receive like when we have new tire compounds. They receive all kinds of data comparing the previous tire to the new tire. There's video (analysis) we use called Dartfish, where they lay over two cars and we can see where we are slower and where we are quicker compared to the other car. And there's iRacing I use before visiting the race tracks, places we haven't been before. iRacing is more helpful for sure on a road course than an oval. I have an iPad in practice with all the information I can have, the lap times, what everybody else is doing, graphs that show what trends are of lap times. You can do long runs and I can compare myself to them to see how far off or how close I am to them.
What has been the biggest lesson you've learned in your first full Nationwide Series season?
Piquet: The competition is very strong and your car needs to be really perfect, really good to be running up front. The engineers need to be really precise, the crew chief needs to be precise on the set-ups to get everything right and have a good car. And the driver needs to do everything perfectly to be able to win a race because there are about 10 cars that can win a race every weekend.
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