On Oct. 3, 2004, the 278-race Monster Energy Cup Series career of Ricky Craven came to an end at the EA Sports 500 at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.
Despite coming from small-town Newburgh, Maine, the determined Craven overcame overwhelming odds to reach NASCAR’s top series and earned victories at Martinsville (Virginia) Speedway in 2001 and at Darlington (South Carolina) Raceway in 2003.
On Sunday, 25-year-old Austin Theriault, another driver from small-town Maine will make his Monster Energy Cup Series debut at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The Fort Kent product will be the first Maine native since Craven nearly 15 years ago to race in the Cup series.
“I’m very happy for him,” said the 53-year-old Craven, now a NASCAR analyst for Fox Sports after a 12-year career at ESPN.
“It’s a great accomplishment. It has to be very, very fulfilling for him. It’s great for our state and, obviously, New Hampshire Motor Speedway is the most appropriate place [for his debut]. He’ll get great support.”
Theriault will drive the No. 52 Rick Waring Racing Chevrolet in the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at Loudon, New Hampshire
Theriault has raced in NASCAR’s other two major series that rank just below the Cup competition, with six Xfinity starts and 13 Gander Outdoor Truck Series races.
He also won the 2017 ARCA series points championship with seven wins and 16 top-five finishes in 20 races.
“When you measure his career, you have to be particularly impressed with his resiliency and resolve,” Craven said. “A few years ago, he won the ARCA championship and won seven races. That should have led to another [significant] opportunity [in NASCAR], but it didn’t.
“This is a credit to his character and how badly he wants it. He has deserved better opportunities than he has had so far, in my opinion. I have not only appreciated his driving but his determination and desire, too.”
One thing Craven is thankful for on Theriault’s behalf is that because Rick Ware Racing is a chartered NASCAR team, Theriault will be automatically included in the field and won’t have to qualify for the race.
“When I made my Cup debut in 1991, you had to qualify and there were so many cars, it was a very tall hurdle. It was miserable,” Craven said. “He won’t have to wonder if he’s in the race and that’s a real blessing.”
Theriault will be driving for an under-funded team that has three cars and has used 10 drivers so far this season.
In 41 races among the 10 drivers, J.J. Yeley and B.J. McLeod have been the only two to crack the top 20 with Yeley earning a 12th at Daytona International Speedway on July 7 and McLeod finishing 19th in the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17.
There have been 34 finishes of 30th or worse.
When asked what advice he would give Theriault, Craven said he “really doesn’t require any advice under these circumstances.
“To finish the race would be the ultimate accomplishment,” he added. “The more laps he is able to complete against the likes of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, the more it would benefit him. It would be invaluable.
“I expect him to do a fine job on Sunday. Hopefully, the visibility he gets this weekend will create some positive momentum [and other opportunities] for him.”