LOUDON, N.H. — Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault was looking for a strong run in his second start behind the wheel of the No. 5 JR Motorsports Chevrolet on Saturday.
He got the strong run, just not the strong finish.
The 20-year-old rookie started 15th and ran as high as 12th before a gamble on fuel mileage relegated Theriault to 21st, three laps down in the Sta-Green 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
An uninterrupted green-flag run from lap 12 to lap 90 saw Brad Keselowski put most of the field a lap down. Theriault, who was running 14th, held his ground against Keselowski before the Sprint Cup Series champion gave the rookie a nudge in the bumper.
“We could really hold our own on the long runs,” said Theriault. “But restarts are where you have to get track position. I gave up a lot of time on restarts.”
Keselowski became the first driver on the season to win from the pole. He led 152 laps. Kyle Busch mounted a late charge, but settled for second. Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson and Chris Buescher rounded out the top five.
After falling a lap down, Theriault was caught up in a multi-car crash that started after Brian Scott got into Elliott Sadler, turning Sadler’s No. 11 Toyota around. Theriault ran into the back of Scott’s car during the wreck.
“Things happen so quick that you really can’t anticipate it,” said Theriault. “[The damage] wasn’t too bad. It didn’t really affect the car too much.”
After a caution on lap 141, Theriault and four others stayed on track when the leaders pitted. The move placed them back on the lead lap, but at a price.
In order to gain back the lap, they were unable to pit. The distance to the end of the race was too long for Theriault to make it on fuel.
“We got off sequence early after going a lap down, but we never gave up,” he said. “We tried to play a few games at the end, and we came up short. You have to gamble though.”
Theriault was running solidly in 12th place before his fuel tank ran dry.
“It was a great weekend having everybody out supporting us. I wish we could’ve come through with a decent finish,” said Theriault, who received one of the loudest ovations from the crowd during driver introductions. “We were in position to salvage one, but it’s one of those days. You got to keep going. You can’t get down on yourself.”
Theriault finished 15th in his series debut at Iowa Speedway in May. In September, he’ll make his final scheduled start for JR Motorsport’s No. 5 Chevrolet.
“We’re looking forward to the next race in Kentucky. I think we’ll have a good rebound finish, and I’ll try not to make the same mistakes I made in this race and learn more. That’s what you have to do. You can’t give up,” Theriault said.