A decade ago, Miguel Paludo was a hot NASCAR prospect, ultimately running three full-time Camping World Truck Series seasons, with the last coming in 2013.
Since 2013, he‘s missed the sport a greal deal.
In those three full-time truck seasons, Paludo recorded eight top-five finishes, half of which came in his final year. He also earned top-10 finishes in 50% of the races that same season. His best effort was runner-up to Ryan Blaney at Pocono Raceway.
And after finishing ninth in the championship standings with Turner Scott Motorsports, Paludo vanished from the NASCAR scene. Sayonara.
“It‘s tough because I worked so much to make that happen and we were so close,” Paludo recently told Jayski.com of never getting a taste of the winner’s circle. “It ended in 2013, when I had my best year. When you compare the level of the trucks that year, it was super hard. Finishing in the top 15 was a good day, not a bad day.”
Over the last eight years, Paludo, a native of Nova Prata, Brazil, focused his attention on the Porsche GT3 Cup Series in Brazil. In 2020, he won the championship in that series, while claiming the big trophy in 2017 in the Porsche GT3 Endurance Series.
When time allows, Justin Allgaier, driver of the No. 7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, travels to Brazil to be part of the team. Having become friends with Paludo during his first stint in NASCAR, plus a common connection with sponsor BRANDT Professional Agriculture, which has taken off in Brazil, it was a natural fit.
Allgaier said, “I do believe that anytime you can get experience in something different — in a different country on a different kind of racetrack — it helps strengthen the network that we have, especially with our partner in BRANDT Professional Agriculture. They have been growing immensely in Brazil, and the hospitality and interactions at the tracks down there really make a big difference.”
Rick Brandt, president and CEO of BRANDT, recalls first forming a relationship with Paludo in 2013 at Chicagoland Speedway, the company’s home racetrack. BRANDT do Brasil was the sponsor of the No. 32 truck.
Fast forward to mid-January 2021: JR Motorsports announced it signed Paludo to run three road course events, piloting the No. 8 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. His first event would be at the Daytona International Speedway road course, while finishing his schedule out at Circuit of the Americas and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Running for JRM, a company that’s won three of the past seven driver championships, meant for high expectations. Quite simply, known as a driver that is elite on road courses, it was the best opportunity of Paludo’s NASCAR career, though being a short stint.
“These guys are going for wins,” Paludo said. “Driving for [Dale Earnhardt Jr.], you know it‘s great equipment and we have everything. Expectations [were] very high.”
While preparing for the events he competed in, Paludo leaned on Allgaier’s experience, a crafty veteran who‘s in the midst of his 11th full-time Xfinity season. Allgaier even attended all of Paludo’s Chevrolet simulator sessions.
But starting a race with no laps on the track, and having not been in an Xfinity car in nine years (had just two series starts prior to 2021) is tough for anyone. Even a veteran racecar driver like Paludo.
“If you‘re putting it with checkmarks, all the tough boxes I was checking,” Paludo said with a chuckle. “Not even starting a race with no practice, but starting in the back. I‘m not racing full time, so I don‘t know how I should race the drivers. I was pretty cautious most of the races and on the last restarts I was more aggressive. I‘m the bird outside of the nest racing guys who race the full season here.”
Between his two starts at Daytona and COTA, Paludo wasn’t able to get any additional seat time because the start of the Brazil season got postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in the Porsche GT3 Cup series‘ first event of the season on May 29, Paludo found himself in victory lane.
Pole Position and Winner🏁 of the 1st race of the @porschegt3cup season. Can‘t thank enough everyone involved. I have the best people, team and sponsor around me. Life is good!☺️ pic.twitter.com/lXb590wVWz
— Miguel Paludo (@miguelpaludo) May 29, 2021
With Paludo’s Xfinity schedule wrapping up last weekend, he was relevant in all three events. At Daytona, he came back from a flat tire to finish seventh. During the COTA race, the No. 8 car spent time inside the top 10, but a driveshaft issue with less than 20 laps remaining forced the team to go behind the wall and finish 34th. Last weekend at Mid-Ohio, he was running fourth on the final lap when Riley Herbst dumped him entering Turn 2.
An average finish of 22.7 doesn’t tell the full story for the speed Paludo showed in his three starts.
Nonetheless, he was satisfied with the No. 8 team’s efforts.
“I was very pleased because coming back to a series that the last time I raced was eight years ago was a big deal. Everything changes. You know how this sport changes, and you never know how you‘re going to stack up.”
Allgaier, who has a trio of road course wins on his resume, believes Paludo assisted JRM’s road course program to his maximum potential.
“[Paludo] brings a lot of knowledge and a lot of skill,” Allgaier said. “He ran up front and had the potential to finish well in all three of his races this year, and I wish that the end results could‘ve shown that. “He is someone who is really talented behind the wheel and is able to understand what he wants from a racecar really well and I think that that has been a big help and something that has helped all of us here at JRM.”
Even though Brandt sponsored Paludo in the No. 8 Chevrolet, he doesn’t look at it as him helping the driver. In fact, the opposite, Paludo is helping the company.
But it’s been special to give Paludo the necessary funds for three races in JRM equipment.
“It‘s been one of Miguel‘s dreams to get to come back to NASCAR, and after we won the championship last year in Brazil, we felt that the timing was right,” Brandt said. “To get to do these races has been awesome and most importantly, it has been huge for the Brazilian people. It‘s amazing how much enthusiasm there is for Miguel in Brazil.”
On the NASCAR side of things, Paludo hopes to get another opportunity in the near future. Since moving to America in 2010, he has been based out of Mooresville, N.C. and still travels back and forth to compete in his Brazil races.
It’s been hard being away from the sport for so long.
“It‘s tough on a lot of aspects with the competition,” Paludo said. “A lot of guys have been competing in this series since I stopped racing on a full-time basis. It‘s tough to get back and have to perform at the highest level.
“At the same time, I‘m getting older, I feel a lot more experienced than I was when I was racing in trucks. I feel, today, everything runs in slow [motion] compared to when I got to the sport and you had to perform.
The conversation of potentially returning to NASCAR has come up between Paludo and Allgaier on many occasions.
And the 16-time Xfinity race winner believes Paludo has the talent to be successful in NASCAR.
“We‘ve talked about his desire to come back to NASCAR for a number of years,” Allgaier said. “I know he misses it, but he loves racing the Porsches in Brazil and he really enjoys that and has been extremely successful. I believe whole heartedly that he has the ability and the skill to return to NASCAR.”
So what’s next?
“I just want to race,” Paludo said. “Whatever BRANDT wants to do. If they want to race in Europe next year, if they want me to do a few races here in NASCAR or they want me to race in the Porsche Cup, I‘m in. I‘ve been having so much fun and I‘m a face for BRANDT in Brazil, so the whole deal has been amazing.
“I want to win in NASCAR, and I hope we have a shot to do it.”