Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault took his first laps in a NASCAR Nationwide Series car for the JR Motorsports team the week of April 27-May 3 at Iowa Speedway in preparation for his Nationwide debut on Sunday in the Get to Know Newton 250 at Iowa Speedway.
The 20-year-old Theriault and 18-year-old Chase Elliott, the current points leader and son of 1988 Sprint Cup points champion Bill Elliott, took turns driving Elliott’s No. 9 Chevy Camaro around the ⅞-mile paved oval.
Teams are allowed to bring only one car to testing under NASCAR guidelines, Theriault explained.
Theriault, who will drive the No. 5 Chevy Camaro in Iowa, had 90 minutes in the No. 9 car.
Theriault said the car was 1,000 pounds heavier than the Super Late Model cars he had driven in the Pro All Stars Series SLM North tour the previous two weekends. He earned a sixth-place finish at Oxford Plains Speedway and a third at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough.
He said it is “substantially different” than what he is used to driving.
“It’s like going from driving a sports car to a pickup truck,” joked Theriault, who recently signed a three-race deal with Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s race team.
“But at the end of the day, I felt I had learned a lot about the driving characteristics and different things I’m going to have to do [on race day],” said Theriault. “Any time you move up to a higher series and drive bigger stuff, there is going to be an adjustment period for any driver.”
With a heavier car, he said it takes “more time and effort to get it into the corner. You have to slow it down by using more brake.
“We didn’t make any changes to the car and it kept getting faster and faster. I got more comfortable in it as I ran more laps,” he added.
Theriault said it was a “hectic week” as he did a number of interviews and photo shoots in addition to testing.
Last week, Theriault and the JR Motorsports team were discussing race strategy.
They will fly to Iowa from North Carolina on Thursday, practice on Friday, qualify on Saturday and race on Sunday afternoon. The race will be shown on ESPN beginning at 2 p.m.
“I’ll be nervous. It’s a natural emotion. I’ve felt it throughout my career,” said Theriault. “You use it as fuel to get better. It’s always about getting better.
“It’ll be a new experience. I’ll try to make the best of it. It’s a great opportunity in a good car. I’m excited about it. I’m just going to take it one practice at a time, one lap at a time,” he added. “I’m not going to be conservative but I’m going to be smart and take things as they come.”
Sprint Cup regular Kevin Harvick has been having an impressive season in the No. 5 car.
In five races, Harvick has posted four top-four finishes including a win at Richmond.
Kasey Kahne, another Sprint Cup regular, finished 22nd in the No. 5 car at Talladega.
Theriault described the track as “rough.
“It’s fairly quick for a 7/8-mile track. It has medium banking and is a multi-groove track. Because it’s worn out, guys will be searching for grip. They will be looking for portions of the track that aren’t as rough. It should make for a good race,” he said.
Theriault said Elliott is good to work with and pointed out that he has raced against him on several occasions.
“He’s an exceptional driver,” said Theriault. “He gives me another person I can get advice from.”
In addition to Elliott, another JR Motorsports driver, Regan Smith, is third in points just three behind Elliott and two behind second place Elliott Sadler, who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Theriault’s other two races for JR Motorsports will be at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 12 and Kentucky Speedway on Sept. 20.