By Travis Barrett, Kennebec Journal
Almost two years after his last full-time season as a driver came to an end with a championship, Austin Theriault could make his debut at NASCAR’s top level this season.
The 25-year-old Fort Kent native is close to finalizing a plan to compete in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series on a part-time basis in 2019, beginning with the series’ July 21 race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He would drive a second car for GoFas Racing, the team owned by Old Orchard Beach native Archie St. Hilaire.
Theriault, who has never competed full-time in any of NASCAR’s three national series, won seven of 20 races en route to the 2017 ARCA Racing Series championship. If he were to qualify for a race at NASCAR’s highest level, he would become the first Maine driver to do so since Ricky Craven finished 30th in a race at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama in October 2004.
This season, Theriault is competing part-time for Ricky Benton Racing in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. After failing to qualify for the season-opening race at Daytona last month, Theriault hopes to be in the field for the Truck Series’ race this weekend at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia.
“It’s been a dream of mine for a long time to race in the Cup series,” Theriault said Wednesday from Charlotte, North Carolina. “I’m closer than ever to making a Cup start. There’s still stuff that has to happen behind the scenes, and we’re still finalizing some deals with some companies (for sponsorship), but there’s a chance.”
GoFas Racing fields Cup cars for Corey LaJoie, the son of two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie. After several part-time seasons of competition with another team, LaJoie is making his first try at a full season in 2019. He finished a season-best 18th in the Daytona 500.
Switching from Ford Fusions to Ford Mustangs prior to this season allowed St. Hilaire to entertain the possibility of fielding a second car out of the GoFas stable, because his organization is now hanging bodies in-house for the first time and has plenty of Mustangs in stock.
“I’m trying to move the program up the ladder and also help some younger guys out,” St. Hilaire said. “I’ve always had a soft spot for guys from Maine. I think it’s too bad that a driver like Austin wins an ARCA championship and then can’t find a ride anywhere.
“If you take money off the table, he’d rank right there with some of the best drivers out there.”
The plan now is for Theriault to race in four races this season. St. Hilaire and Theriault insisted they were not interested in one-race deals, nor would limiting Theriault’s opportunity to only four races this season — though St. Hilaire said that races in New Hampshire, Michigan, Richmond and Talladega made the most sense as a starting point.
“We’re trying for four races,” St. Hilaire said. “I think everybody’s optimistic for more than that, but I’d say we could do that and be halfway decent. I told Austin, ‘If you want to do it, I’ll help you out.'”
This would not be Theriault’s first time driving for St. Hilaire.
Theriault won a “Maine Young Guns” competition in 2012 to earn himself a start in a car owned by St. Hilaire for a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at New Hampshire. He finished 19th in that event, his first in the series, while also winning his first ACT Late Model Tour race that season — at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough — en route to a second straight third-place finish in the ACT standings that season.
“We started talking about this at the beginning of the year,” Theriault said. “There’s no other car owner from Maine in that series, and there’s no other driver at the national levels from there, either. We’ve always stayed in touch. We had a conversation where we realized I’ve been at this for a while and had some successes and my fair share of struggles, too … and I don’t know anybody else I’d rather work with.”
View story and photos on the Lewiston Sun Journal's website here.