Two years ago, Austin Theriault showed up as a 16-year-old rookie with only a handful of ACT Late Model Tour starts under his belt. Last summer, he opened eyes when he became the youngest podium finisher in the history of the biggest one-day stock car race in the northeast.
This Sunday, Theriault and his No. 57 Pelletier Ford Ford Fusion team head to Oxford Plains Speedway for the 39th annual TD Bank Oxford 250 on a short-list of favorites to capture the premier Late Model event in the country.
“Other than the unexpected you have to deal with in any race like this one, we’re going into this race probably the best we’ve ever been at Oxford,” said Theriault, a Brad Keselowski Racing development driver. “I know I’ve said it many different times about Oxford. I’ve said it earlier this year, and I’m sure I said it last year – but we’ve learned a lot and grown a lot as a team.
“I’m just really excited about going into this weekend.”
Practice for the TD Bank 250 begins on Saturday afternoon and continues Sunday morning. Qualifying rolls off at 2 p.m., with the main event slated for Sunday evening.
Theriault was just 17 years old last summer when he finished third in the TD Bank 250 – behind NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Busch and Vermont Late Model standout Nick Sweet – in a family-owned car. Driving that same family-owned machine, Theriault followed his TD Bank 250 showing with a run of seven straight Top-5 finishes on the ACT Late Model Tour.
That car has been put on the shelf this weekend in favor of a brand new one.
“I guess if I wouldn’t have had a couple just like it running (weekly at Oxford), I might be more hesitant.,” said AT Racing crew chief Mickey Green. “But, in my opinion, we couldn’t win with the old car. The new car is the one that’s going to take us to that first win or wins. When Austin told me after he tested it for 30 laps that we would have won if we’d had it at Oxford (in May) or at Devil’s Bowl, I’ve got to believe that he knows what he’s feeling.”
Theriault is currently fourth in the ACT Late Model Tour standings, the only driver in the series this season to have posted a Top-10 finish in every race this season. He also has four Top-5s in five starts. Away from the ACT Late Model Tour, Theriault has been impressive in his Brad Keselowski Racing development role. Last time out, he finished fourth in the World Crown 300 at Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga., on July 4 – behind the likes of Chase Elliott and David Ragan.
Still, he’s focused on what’s ahead of him this weekend.
“It’s the biggest race of the year for us up here in the north,” Theriault said. “From an excitement standpoint, the whole team and everybody else around it knows when the Oxford 250 comes around. There’s an excitement, because it’s a big deal to us. There are (NASCAR) guys who come, and for these ACT-style cars, it’s the biggest race of the year.”
Right now, Theriault is feeling confident – despite the fact that he appears to have a bullseye on his back heading into this weekend.
“I feel that we have more expected out of us. I don’t feel any added expectations from myself – I know we’re going to run well,” Theriault said. “I’m very confident in what we’re bringing and what we’re capable of this weekend. Right now, we feel that the only team that can beat us is ourselves. What we’ve got here at Oxford is something that we’ve really been working hard on.”