OXFORD, Maine — Sometimes you have to gamble.
Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault, who became the youngest driver to earn a top-three finish at the TD Bank 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway last year when he finished third at age 17, will run just his second race in a new car at Sunday’s 39th annual TD Bank 250.
Theriault has decided not to run the Late Model car that he has driven to fourth place in the points standings in the American-Canadian Tour.
“Why not take the car that has had so many good finishes to the biggest race of the year? You’ve got to take chances if you want to win,” said Theriault. “The new car is about 25 percent better. I drove it last week in a local race at Oxford and finished third.”
The race has certain challenges as the drivers vie for the $25,000 winner’s check. Second place pays $7,500 and lap leaders earn $100 per lap.
The top four finishers in six 15-lap heat races earn the top 24 spots. The starting spots for those heat races are drawn out of a hat. Then the top three finishers in three 20-lap consolation races claim spots 25 through 33 and, finally, just the winners of the three 20-lap last-chance races get spots 34-36. There are also at least two provisionals.
Once the 250 begins, Theriault said, “You’ve got to save your equipment for 150 laps and maintain track position. You want to pass as many cars as you can. It’s about being around for the last 50-100 laps.”
“You have to keep your tires under the car,” said Buckfield’s Tim Brackett, an OPS Late Model regular who has entered the 250 since 1988 and finished a career-best fifth in 1999. “And the tires haven’t been that great this year.”
He said the addition of a traction aid compound on the outside of the track has altered it.
“The bottom groove used to be the quickest but not any more. There’s a lot more grip from the middle up,” said Brackett.
Two-time winner Eddie MacDonald of Rowley, Mass., a regular on the K and N Pro Series East tour, said he feels his chances are “pretty good.
“I’ve had a fast car the last five or six years and had a car capable of winning the last four or five,” said MacDonald who won in 2009 and 2010 and was fourth last year.
“The biggest thing is tuning your car for the day and we do that Sunday morning. We really focus on that,” said MacDonald.
Beginning in 2004, OPS owner Bill Ryan scheduled the race during the off-weekend for the Sprint Cup series, enabling him to attract Cup drivers to the race.
Kevin Harvick became the first Cup driver to win it in 2008 and Kyle Busch triumphed last year.
This year’s Cup driver is Trevor Bayne, who became the youngest winner of the Daytona 500 in 2011 at the age of 20.