BY BILL STEWART
The 39th annual TD Bank 250 has been no stranger to marquee names over the years.
2011 Daytona 500 champ Trevor Bayne is the big draw for Sunday’s race at Oxford Plains Speedway.
However, OPS President Bill Ryan stopped short in naming Bayne a favorite Sunday.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a surprise winner,” Ryan said Wednesday. “The competition is very close. Trevor is not bringing his own equipment. He’ll have a prepared car but it will be a good car.”
Bayne, 21, will drive a car provided by Kendall Roberts of Barre, Vt.
Roberts also built cars for Brad Keselowski in 2010 and Steven Wallace in 2009.
“We just got everything finished (Thursday),” Roberts said. “It’s a brand new car. We’re hoping it’s a good, stable car.”
Keselowski and Wallace didn’t fare particularly well at OPS, finishing 22nd and 21st, respectively.
“Brad had one of our better cars,” Roberts said. “I don’t know what happened there. Maybe we missed the setup. I’m hoping we have a better car than what we’ve had.”
Bayne is scheduled to arrive at OPS on Saturday to test the car, which Wallace and Keselowski did not do.
“That will make a huge difference,” Roberts added. “The other drivers showed up on Sunday and never really got to practice.”
As of Wednesday, 123 drivers had entered the field. They will all try to qualify through a variety of channels.
There will be six qualifying heats with the top four in each moving on to the feature. There will also be three 20-lap consolation races with the top three in each qualifying. Finally, there will be three 20-lap last chance races. The winner in each one advances.
There are two guaranteed provisionals.
The first will go the non-qualified driver who is highest in the OPS Late Model point standings. The second will go the most TD Bank 250 champ who did not qualify.
Sprint Cup drivers have won two of the last four TD Bank 250 races, including Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick in 2008.
“Kyle won on his third attempt here,” said OPS president Bill Ryan. “He really cruised. Harvick was efficient. He put a lot of work into it. They both worked hard.”
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Pittston driver Ben Ashline dedicated the bulk of his waking hours this week to working on his car.
“We’ll go to midnight tonight,” Ashline said Thursday night. “I try to touch everything in the car. By touching everything you can see what might be cracked or what might be wrong. We’ll change all the fluids and make sure everything is fresh. You can always work on the car. There is all something you can do. We’ll go to midnight and then be right back at it early in the morning.”
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Austin Theriault has experienced contrasting emotions at the TD Bank 250.
Theriault showed at Oxford Plains Speedway two year ago as a 16-year-old rookie, but ultimately failed to qualify for the biggest stock car race in Maine.
Last year, the Fort Kent native finished third behind Sweet and Sprint Cup driver Kyle Busch. Theriault, now 18, became the youngest driver in the history of the race to earn a podium finish.
“We’ve had some good runs and some disappointing runs in the 250,” he said. “Two years ago, nothing went well, and we didn’t even qualify for the show. Nothing went right that day. Last year our main goal was to get qualified. After realizing how good of a car we had, I thought that we had something. We raced up to the top five and then got a top-three finish.”
Theriault, who drives in the American-Canadian Tour, is one of a handful of drivers expected to contend for the title Sunday.
“I feel that if we can get into the show, which I think we will, I think we’ll have something,” he said.
Bill Stewart — 621-5640