By Larry Mahoney, Bangor Daily News Staff
With his first two NASCAR Monster Energy Cup races now completed, Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault will return to where his auto racing career started Sunday for the Aroostook Savings and Loan Firecracker 200 Pro All Stars Series Super Late Model North race at Spud Speedway in Caribou.
The 25-year-old Theriault finished 35th at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in his Cup debut on July 21 and was 34th at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania last Sunday while driving for the underfunded Rick Ware Racing team.
He will drive a car at Spud Speedway from the Crazy Horse Racing team based in South Paris.
“It’s kind of cool coming off back-to-back Cup races to go up there and be a part of that race and see a lot of people you grew up racing with along with fans who didn’t have a chance to go to Loudon [New Hampshire],” Theriault said.
Theriault said his two Cup races were valuable despite driving for a team that doesn’t have anywhere near the financial backing of major NASCAR teams like Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing. Ware’s three cars and 12 drivers have finished inside the top 30 just eight times in 46 combined starts this season.
“As a team racing on a budget, you have to understand what the objectives are. You do the best you can with what you have. You go as fast as you possibly can,” said Theriault, who finished five laps back at Pocono. “You realize you are probably going to be multiple laps down.
“The biggest thing is you are racing on a stage that is the largest in motorsports across the United States. There is nothing bigger.”
By climbing inside a Cup car, you become relevant and it opens the lines of communication with potential sponsors, said Theriault, who is optimistic he will get more Cup rides this season.
“It’s about building relationships. Sponsorships are what keep the motorsports industry going, revolving and moving forward,” he said. “I see a lot of good things happening from that standpoint. A lot of doors are opening for me.”
Theriault has been working behind the scenes trying to secure sponsors, and he said one of the most gratifying aspects of his two Cup runs was to see how companies such as Bangor Savings Bank, which was his primary sponsor, enjoyed their foray into Cup racing.
“It was something they had never experienced before. There was a lot of positive feedback,” Theriault said.
The two Cup races were the longest of his career, although he finished only 185 of 301 laps at Loudon due to a rear gear issue.
“I’m learning a lot and I’m getting stronger,” the 2017 ARCA Series points champion said. “It has been the experience of a lifetime.”
Theriault looks forward to Sunday’s return to Spud Speedway. Racing begins at 2 p.m.
“I want to win. I know I can win. But no matter what happens, we’re going to have fun. And there’s no pressure on me,” he said.
Theriault ran last year’s Firecracker 200, but electrical issues ended his day prematurely.
Spud Speedway owner Troy Haney said having Theriault back with his Cup resume will give the race a boost, as will the return of Frenchville’s Shawn Martin, a perennial Late Model contender at Oxford Plains Speedway, and veteran Mike Rowe of Turner, who will be driving a Hal O’Neal car from New Brunswick.
“There are a lot of storylines, which should make for a nice event,” Haney said.
Money raised from the event will go to Feed the County, which supports 24 food pantries in Aroostook County.
“We’ve raised about $11,000 already through lap sponsors,” said Haney, who raised $12,600 a year ago.
Theriault also will sign autographs during Sweden Street festivities in Caribou from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday. He will make another appearance from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at DOC’s Place in Fort Kent.