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When NASCAR descends up Chicagoland Speedway, most of the hype will be over the opening race for this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. But before the Cup Series even hits the track, the Camping World Truck Series will run Friday night, returning to action after two weeks off.
As drivers take to the track, Austin Theriault will grab the reins of the No. 29 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford for the remainder of the season. Initially announced to share driving duties with Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano and team owner Brad Keselowski, Theriault will pilot the No. 29 for the remaining eight races on the schedule.
Theriault made his Truck Series debut in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. The 21-year-old started fourth, led nine laps and went on to finish fourth, an outstanding debut in a race where things could have gone wrong in a matter of seconds.
Three races later, Theriault followed up his first start with the worst finish he’s posted all season. After contact with teammate Tyler Reddick during qualifying at Kansas Speedway, the No. 29 team was forced to a backup truck with no laps on it for the race. Having started in the back of the field with no time to practice and make adjustments, Theriault struggled mightily with handling and even spun in turn 4 to bring out the second caution on lap 42. Late-race adjustments finally did the trick for the truck, but it was too little, too late and he was left to settle with a 14th-place result.
Fast forward to Texas Motor Speedway in June, and Theriault finish fifth after starting sixth. He posted finishes of 10th and 12th at Gateway and Iowa, respectively – far from poor results, given the limited amount of experience he has behind the wheel of a truck. Theriault has not made a Truck Series start since June, though he did travel with the team.
Meanwhile, Theriault will likely be leaning on teammate Reddick for advice as he learns new tracks and how to handle each race behind the wheel of the truck. And for the driver of the No. 19, who is currently in the thick of a championship battle, it will create a bit of stability in maintain his role as mentor through the remainder of the year.
“Austin is still learning a lot as it is, so I go from being the rookie of the team to trying to help him get along,” Reddick said in an interview at Texas Motor Speedway in June. “I’m not much of a veteran by any means, but I try to help as much as I can. I get to switch roles back and forth from trying to help mentor another driver to being the rookie of the two. It’s funny watching that happen this year.”
With a worst finish of 14th in his five starts, it’s easy to have high hopes for Theriault for the remainder of the year. He has experience at just one track in the final eight scheduled, a start at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last year behind the wheel of the No. 5 JR Motorsports Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series. In that race, he finished 19th, three laps down, after being involved in a multi-car crash just past the halfway mark.
It’s certainly hard to guess how Theriault will fare in the final eight races this season, but the key for the 21-year-old is to take advantage of the track time he’s got and soak up information like a sponge to use in the future to further his career.
You never know; depending on his performance to close out the 2015 season, it could turn into a full-time deal for him next season.
- There are currently 36 trucks on the entry list for Friday night’s American Ethanol E15 225. Daniel Suarez, Ryan Ellis and Ross Chastain will run double-duty by also competing in Saturday’s NXS event. For more details on the entry list, click here.
- JRM has tapped Kyle Larson to pilot its No. 00 Chevrolet in Friday night’s race. In nine previous Truck Series starts, Larson has four top fives and six top 10s, including a victory at Rockingham Speedway in 2013. The American Ethanol E15 225 will be his first start with JRM.
- Matt “Mile-and-a-Half Master” Crafton heads to Chicagoland Speedway this weekend just three markers behind Erik Jones looking to retake the point lead he held for much of the early part of the season. In the last 13 races at mile-and-a-half tracks, Crafton has posted five wins.
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