LOUDON, N.H. — Before he ever sat in the seat of a race car of any type, Austin Theriault dreamed of one day making it to NASCAR’s highest level. But in any of those dream scenarios, the native of Fort Kent never imagined how frustrating his first taste of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing would be.

After an abbreviated practice attempt Friday, Theriault qualified 36th out of 37 cars for Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The positive for Theriault, 25, is that a difficult day is now in the rearview mirror and he can focus his efforts in his No. 52 Bangor Savings Bank Chevrolet on preparing for a 301-mile race at his home track.

“It’s still been (positive),” Theriault said following his qualifying laps. “There’s a lot of 10-year-olds in the grandstands that may want to do this someday, and it’s a tough business. I take this better than sitting up in the grandstands (watching).”

Theriault’s Rick Ware Racing crew took significant time in the garage during Friday’s lone 50-minute practice session to make adjustments to the car. After going through pre-practice technical inspection, NASCAR instructed the team to change some of the suspension components under the car.

With roughly 10 minutes remaining in the practice, Theriault finally got on the track. But almost as soon as he drove the car out of the garage and got to the exit of pit road, the session was halted for a crash involving series regular Denny Hamlin.

Once practice resumed it ended almost as suddenly as it started, with Ryan Newman bringing an early end to the practice for his own on-track incident.

Theriault got roughly half a lap of practice time and was the only driver not to register a single lap at full speed. His two qualifying laps later in the afternoon marked the first time he’d driven around NHMS since a start in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series in 2016.

“It was more of a neutral day when you take into account mechanical issues sometimes pop up,” Theriault said. “When you’re in a NASCAR race, there’s a lot of pressure even for the crews to get everything done. You don’t just have all day to fix something.

“(Qualifying) was my first lap on the track, actual full lap on the track. Probably a second off the pace from where I wanted to be, but I feel really confident we would have got there if we’d have been able to tune on the car a little bit in practice.”

Theriault ran primarily Late Models and Super Late Models in the northeast as a teenager, and he finished second in an American-Canadian Tour race at NHMS in 2012. He also posted four podium finishes in the Oxford 250, including a career-best second in that race in a Super Late Model in 2014.

Since, he’s driven NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series vehicles, as well as raced his way to the 2017 ARCA national championship with seven wins that season. That’s given him experience in heavier, more difficult to drive cars — though the Cup cars are a different animal entirely.

An animal he’s still trying to tame this weekend.

“The Cup cars are different,” Theriault said. “It’s hard to say, because I still only have three laps in a Cup car. (Saturday) I’ll have a much better idea of the differences.”

There are two full Cup Series practices scheduled for Saturday at NHMS, totaling nearly two hours of track time. Theriault believes that with that kind of time to focus only on preparing for Sunday — and with technical inspection issues taken care of — he and his crew can put a more competitive car under him.

“(Saturday) is going to be all about race runs and I’m very confident we’ll be better tomorrow.”


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