By Dustin Albino

Admittedly, Miguel Paludo misses competing in NASCAR on a regular basis. When he does get the rare chance to compete in stock cars, it’s a gratifying feeling.

Upon returning to the United States after locking up his second straight Porsche Carrera Cup championship in the final weekend of its season last month, Paludo was going through his email. On a Friday afternoon in mid-November, he got the news that he would be returning to the Xfinity Series in 2022 with JR Motorsports for a limited schedule. 

“It was a surprise,” Paludo recently told of his initial reaction. “I remember being shocked that whole weekend because I had zero idea, zero expectations that this was going to happen again.”

At the beginning of December, JRM formally announced Paludo would return to the team for three races in the 2022 Xfinity Series season to drive the No. 88 Chevrolet, sponsored by BRANDT Professional Agriculture.

“I can‘t put in words what this means to me,” Paludo added. “Now knowing the car, what I need and what I learned from last year, especially knowing the team, I couldn‘t ask for better equipment and all the BRANDT support throughout the years.”

Paludo got the chance to compete with JR Motorsports through Rick Brandt, CEO and president of BRANDT. His company has an immediate tie-in by being the primary sponsor of Justin Allgaier‘s No. 7 team. But the brand has also sponsored Paludo dating back to 2013 at Chicagoland Speedway in the Camping World Truck Series. Since 2015, Paludo and BRANDT have worked together, with the goal of growing the company in Brazil. 

“Our racing program has been critical to our business success in Brazil,” Brandt said. “It‘s a real differentiator and a key way for us to interact with our customers. We see the Xfinity races with Miguel in the BRANDT Chevrolet for JRM as a logical extension of our Porsche program. 

“Miguel has become much more than just a racecar driver for us. He is an integral part of us and aids greatly to our team, our customers and our culture.”

This go around, Paludo will make his season debut at COTA (March 26), where he finished 34th (broke a driveshaft while running inside the top 10) in the series’ inaugural race at COTA in mid-May. He will finish his season with starts at Road America (July 2) and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course (July 30). These three races stuck out to him as ones that wouldn‘t conflict with the Porsche series next year. Not knowing that series’ schedule yet, ideally, those three were the “most safe” dates to compete in, rather than the other three road courses on the schedule.

Coming off a year in which Paludo had just one 50-minute practice at COTA to get comfortable with the car and no practice at either the Daytona International Speedway road course or Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, he believes the resumption of practice and qualifying will do wonders for his chances at being more competitive and familiar with the racecar. 

“I grew a lot as a racecar driver last year,” Paludo said. “I knew coming in I was in the best performance and mentality as a racecar driver and winning championships (in Porsche Carrera Cup) that I was ready for that challenge.

“If you put it in perspective, coming to a NASCAR Xfinity Series race without knowing the car, not knowing the track, knowing anything, you could easily make a mistake early and wreck yourself or someone and that was it.”

Paludo said with a heavier car, knowing where to begin braking was his biggest struggle in his three Xfinity races this year. The Porsche Carrera Cup series — where Paludo has won two straight championships — runs an anti-lock brake system (ABS), which allows drivers to brake much later into the corner. Whereas he could put 250 to 280 bars of pressure in a Porsche car, he said he could put roughly 70 bars of pressure in an Xfinity ride. Evidently, locking up the brakes is what cut down his tire at Daytona.

Still, Paludo managed to rebound from that flat tire to finish seventh at Daytona. In his final start of 2021, he was running fourth on the final lap at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course but was turned by Riley Herbst. That resulted in a disappointing 27th-place finish. 

And he wasn’t happy.

“It was hard for me to absorb that because it was a lot of hard work, it was my last race of the year and I learned the hardest way to pass and win championships, like I have, you have to have talent,” Paludo said of the incident with Herbst. “You can‘t wreck people like I was wrecked and that was taken from us.

“Once in a while, you‘re going to fight for the win and bang doors and do something different, but you cannot dump people like that.”

Brandt, who understands that incidents like the one with Paludo and Herbst can occur, believes it was just tough luck.

“Tough breaks are a part of racing: That‘s just how it is,” he said. “And while we race for wins, we measure the success of our program by the engagement with our customers and prospects. Our primary goal is to activate at track with our best customers and key prospects to maximize our program.”

As for other NASCAR opportunities in 2022, Paludo isn’t ruling any out. He noted Brandt mentioned there’s a chance he could field Paludo in other races, depending on the Porsche Carrera Cup schedule, which will likely come out following the start of the new year. 

“I would love to do them all if my schedule doesn‘t conflict,” Paludo stated. “Brandt and JR Motorsports know that I‘m available if they need me. But I know how tough it is to put it all together: You need sponsorship, you need all the parts and pieces together. I‘m definitely available and willing to do more if possible.”

For now, though, he’s counting down the days until he can make his 2022 season debut at COTA.

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