Another former open-wheel star is coming to NASCAR. But before you roll your eyes, Brazilian driver Nelson Piquet Jr. says he's intent on doing things the right way.
"I want to start in the whole NASCAR series slowly," Piquet Jr. said Monday in announcing his move to race trucks full-time with Kevin Harvick Inc. "I want to learn it. Coming from Europe, it's a completely different environment. I want to reach Cup when I'm prepared and get there with a good package and a good experience and good knowledge.
"I don't want to start jumping teams and start jumping series...to get to NASCAR Cup. I know that's not the way it works and that's not the way I want to do it. I want to get there because I deserve it and because of wins and because teams want me to be there, not because I'm going to bring a sponsor."
That's both completely refreshing and unusual in today's buy-a-ride culture of NASCAR's lower-tier series. Though no sponsor was announced for Piquet (which could mean he's funding his ride out of his own pocket), at least he's intent on proving himself before moving up to Nationwide and, ultimately, Sprint Cup.
Last season, the ex-Formula One driver attempted five Truck Series starts and recorded three top-10s – impressive considering his lack of oval experience. He also ran the Nationwide race at Watkins Glen and finished seventh in his first start in that series.
Now that he'll be running a full season with KHI, Piquet said he's setting his sights higher.
"My realistic goal is for sure to be Rookie of the Year, no doubt about that," he said. "Second of all, win a few races. Competing for the championship may be too optimistic, but never impossible."
If he finds success early and is a championship contender in his first season, Piquet said there's a chance he could move up to Nationwide next year – but only if he's ready.
"You never know," he said. "If I start learning quickly and winning quickly, at the end of the year I could try some Nationwide races.
"I just turned 25 years old, I've still got a lot of time ahead of me. There's no point in jumping series and ending up in Cup quickly."
Piquet is attempting to do what most open-wheel drivers have been unable to do so far: Succeed in NASCAR. Montoya, the most successful of the open-wheelers recently, has made the Chase, but has yet to win on an oval.
Others, like Sam Hornish Jr., Scott Speed, AJ Allmendinger and Danica Patrick, have yet to find success. Three-time IndyCar champ Dario Franchitti only lasted half a season in NASCAR.
So the transition is clearly difficult. Can Piquet succeed where others haven't? Perhaps by moving up the ladder at a slower pace, he's giving himself a better shot.
Piquet is probably most known for intentionally crashing his car to help a teammate in a 2008 F1 race, which led to a major scandal (the team ordered him to do so).
Because of his F1 experience, Piquet is far more famous worldwide than most NASCAR drivers. His more than 127,000 Twitter followers put him third on the NASCAR rankings behind only Danica Patrick (254,000) and Juan Pablo Montoya (237,000).