By Larry Mahoney, Bangor Daily News
In the past three TD Bank Oxford 250s, Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault hasn’t finished any lower than fourth.
The 20-year-old was fourth a year ago after consecutive third-place finishes in 2011 and 2012.
He is looking to reach the top step of the podium at the TD Bank 250 on Sunday when Maine’s richest and most prestigious race is held at Oxford Plains Speedway. Heat races for the 41st annual race begin at 2 p.m.
The winner pockets $25,000 and drivers earn $100 for every lap they lead.
Theriault has had a busy year so far including his first ARCA victory and two races for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. He will run one more Nationwide race in September for JR Motorsports at Kentucky Speedway.
His career is on the rise and any trip to Victory Lane enhances his chances of earning a full-time ride in the future.
Theriault will be racing his own race team’s Dodge, the same car in which he finished second at a Pro All-Stars Series Super Late Model North race at Scarborough’s Beech Ridge Motor Speedway two weekends ago. Berwick’s Joey Doiron won the event.
“Every race is important,” said Theriault. “This one has a little more prestige so there will be a little more pressure involved. But we’ll try not to let it affect us as much.
“We all know the pressure will get to us at some point but we’re going to have fun this weekend. We aren’t going to view it as do-or-die,” added Theriault.
Theriault is coming off a 21st-place finish in the Nationwide Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire, last Saturday. He was running 12th when a fuel gamble backfired and he ran out of gas with two laps to go.
“A lot of guys gambled and ran out of gas,” he said. “I just want to keep getting better and better. A lot of it has to do with me getting more comfortable in the car. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to race every weekend so it will be second nature to me.”
He wound up 15th in his Nationwide Series debut at Iowa Speedway in May.
Theriault would be considered one of the young guns but there are some drivers who are much younger who will be looking to contend.
Fourteen-year-old Tyler Dippel of Wallkill, New York, is running fourth in points in the PASS South Super Late Model tour. He will be making his TD Bank 250 debut. He is leading the PASS National SLM series through two races.
Tate Fogelman of Durham, North Carolina, another 14-year-old, is sixth in points. He was 25th in last year’s TD Bank 250 as a 13-year-old.
And 16-year-old Reid Lanpher of Manchester will be looking to have a strong run.
At the other end of the spectrum is 63-year-old Mike Rowe of Turner, a three-time TD Bank 250 winner.
“Mike is as focused as I’ve ever seen him,” said Stephen Perry, who co-owns the Mainely Motorsports/Lux Enterprises race team with Mike Lux.
Rowe drives for the team.
If Rowe does take the checkered flag, it will give him wins at the 250 in four consecutive decades. He previously won in 1984, 1997 and 2005.
Perry speculated that one of the reasons for Rowe’s focus is knowing he may not have too many 250s remaining “even though he is still at the top of his game.”
Rowe is running third in points in the PASS North SLM tour with a win and five top-five finishes in eight races.
There will be a number of PASS South drivers on hand and Perry likes the trend.
“We used to get a lot of southern drivers in the 1970s,” said Perry. “Hopefully, they’ll be able to bring a lot of fans with them. They’ll make a weekend of it.”
Tate Fogleman will be racing against his father, Jay, again this year. Jay Fogelman finished third at the 250 a year ago.
Jay Fogelman is 19th in points because he has run just three of the eight PASS South races.
Daniel Hemric of Kannapolis, North Carolina, was ninth at the TD Bank 250 last year and has won four of the five PASS South races he has entered this season.
Preston Peltier of Concord, North Carolina, is 13th in PASS South points.
And Steve Park, one of 23 drivers who has won on the Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck series, has entered the race.
The defending champ is Morrill’s Travis Benjamin and he and Theriault know there are several factors that enter into a strong run.
“You have to stay out of trouble,” said Benjamin.
“You have to stay on the lead lap [until the final stretch],” Theriault added. “You can’t afford a flat tire and you can’t run into people. You try to stay around the top five until the final run and then you go for it.”
Racing is unpredictable, Benjamin added.
“You could lead the whole race and have the car break down on the last lap. You could have the best car there and not win. That’s how it happens most of the time in racing,” he said.