Austin Theriault earned a 15th-place finish in his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut Sunday afternoon at Iowa Speedway. The finish gives Theriault, a 20-year-old rookie driver from Fort Kent, Maine, a solid building block for his two additional races with JR Motorsports later this season at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (July 12) and Kentucky Speedway (Sept. 20).
As is the case with all drivers making their debut, no matter the level of competition, the weekend presented Theriault with a steep learning curve that he never backed down from. Improving his performance on the track throughout the weekend, he learned the nuances of big-league stock car racing at the Nationwide Series level and made tremendous progress from his first lap on track Friday morning until the checkered flag Sunday.
Starting 17th, Theriault practiced patience throughout the day, working his way forward on long runs and with the help of fast pit stops by the No. 5 SPY/Dirty Mo Radio team. The rookie driver moved to 11th by the race’s halfway point despite radioing crew chief Ernie Cope that his car felt a little uneasy on extended green-flag runs.
In the final half of the 250-lap race, Theriault consistently clicked off competitive lap times as he drove to as high ninth before a caution at lap 213.
Theriault lined up ninth for the final restart with only 22 laps remaining. The ensuing madness that is late-race restarts forced Theriault to the middle of three-wide battles several times as he attempted to fend off numerous competitors. The 20-year-old drifted to 15th where he would take the checkered flag.
Sam Hornish Jr. captured his first victory of the season followed by Ryan Blaney, Regan Smith, Chase Elliott and Elliott Sadler rounding out the top five.
Theriault’s next scheduled race with the No. 5 team is at his home track, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, on July 12. Kevin Harvick returns to the seat of the No. 5 Chevrolet next Saturday (May 24) at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Austin Theriault, driver No. 5 SPY / Dirty Mo Radio team
“I’m a little disappointed. That last restart, I thought we were going to have a really good shot at a top-10 finish. Everybody worked hard all day and all weekend. We made big gains from when we unloaded on Friday speed-wise and comfort-wise. I thought we were going to get the SPY/Dirty Mo Radio Chevrolet a decent top-10 finish. But the way that last restart worked out, it didn’t work to our favor. We were three-wide and didn’t end up to the good side of that, but it was a decent top-15 finish. Not where we want to be, but a good start to another two more races to come.”