Fort Kent’s Theriault gains confidence from TD Bank 250 showing

Posted July 26, 2011, at 7:57 p.m.
Last modified July 26, 2011, at 8:18 p.m.

Austin Theriault’s cell phone has been ringing constantly.

The 17-year-old from Fort Kent finished third in the TD Bank Oxford 250 on Sunday night in just his second year competing in Maine’s richest and most prestigious race.

He failed to qualify a year ago.

“I’ve been getting a lot of calls. I’ve got a lot of support from people in my hometown,” said Theriault, who started 11th after finishing second in his heat race to eventual 250 winner and NASCAR Sprint Cup star Kyle Busch.

Nick Sweet of Barre, Vt., finished second in the 250 and Theriault, who ran in the top 10 for most of the race, held off defending two-time 250 champ Eddie MacDonald of Rowley, Mass., for third.

Theriault joined the Rick Paya Motorsports Team on the American Canadian Tour this season after finishing seventh in points in his rookie ACT season in 2010.

But he went back to his family-owned Ford Fusion, the one he drove in the ACT a year ago, for the 250 and it paid off.

He had raced it at Spud Speedway in Caribou and Speedway 95 in Hermon and went from 25th to second in a Saturday night race at Oxford Plains Speedway the weekend before the 250.

“It was a no-brainer for us,” explained Theriault. “There was no pressure. It was a non-points race. And we had a great run at Oxford the previous weekend. We figured it was a win-win for everyone.

“It’s all about getting the car to do what the driver wants and this car works good at Oxford,” added Theriault.

Theriault, who will be a senior at Fort Kent High School in the fall, admitted he far exceeded his expectations.

“My expectation was just to qualify. I wanted to be able to check that off my list (of accomplishments),” said Theriault. “There are a lot of good drivers who have never qualified for it, never mind finishing in the top five or top 10.

“To finish third in our second time is almost unheard of,” said Theriault, who also heard he may have been the youngest driver to earn a top-three finish in the 38-year history of the race.

Theriault anticipates it will serve as a valuable boost to his career.

“This will be a confidence-booster for everyone, especially me,” said Theriault. “It’s important not to doubt yourself. You can really take yourself out of contention and bring your whole team down with you.”

It served as a valuable learning experience.

“The first thing I learned is how many different strategies people use during the race,” said Theriault. “I don’t know if one is any better than the others.

“You may expect something to work in your favor but it doesn’t. So you have to keep changing strategy,” he said.

Theriault’s key strategic adjustment saw him come to the pits to take left-side tires and then return to the pits several laps later to take right-side tires.

“It paid off for us. Could we have done something different and gotten a better result? Yeah. But that’s for another year. I’m still pumped up about third,” said Theriault.

He will return to the ACT series Saturday for a race at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough.

He is 10th in the points standings through six races. He failed to qualify for one. There are nine races remaining.

“Hopefully, we’re positioned for a better second half. We’re going to crank up the heat and look for better finishes,” said Theriault.

Theriault is a top-notch wrestler at Fort Kent but isn’t sure if he will wrestle this season.

“It will all depend on my racing schedule,” said Theriault. “It’s tough to do both.”

There are races held in the south during the winter.

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