OXFORD — It has been a big year for Austin Theriault.

In April, the 20-year old from Fort Kent announced that he had signed with JR Motorsports and would drive his No. 5 Chevrolet in three NASCAR Nationwide series races.

“They’ve been a lot of things,” he said of the two races he has run in so far this season, “exciting, challenging and I’m obviously grateful for the opportunity with JR Motorsports.”

They have also been a little disappointing, Theriault acknowledged.

In his debut at Iowa Speedway on May 18 he settled for 15th after getting caught in congestion following a restart with 22 laps remaining. He was ninth at the time of the caution.

Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon a gamble on gas cost Theriault in his second Nationwide start, the Sta-Green 200. Theriault’s team elected not to pit on lap 140 on what would be the race’s final caution, allowing the 20-year old to climb into 12th. Then, with three laps to go, however, he ran out of gas and settled for 21st.

“Looking at Iowa and New Hampshire the finishes were not what we hoped, but even coming out of Iowa we thought the weekend went fairly well,” he said. “… Where we finished wasn’t a reflection of how we ran.

“Loudon was a little bit more difficult. We had to play some strategy at the end of the race. We had to put ourselves in a position to gain some positions back and we ran out of fuel.”

Theriault is taking the results in stride though, and said he is focused on learning and getting better.

“Going into Iowa and going into Loudon top 10s were on our radar,” he said. “…Every driver has to learn to make mistakes and I’m definitely no exception to that. I’m definitely going to make mistakes as I learn and try to get better.”

For now, Theriault has one focus — the Oxford 250.

“I’m not exactly sure what next year holds, but I do know we’re racing a huge race this weekend,” Theriault said. “I’m going to do the best I can and make the best I can out of these opportunities.”

Theriault has enjoyed plenty of success at Oxford Plains Speedway, recording three top-five finishes in the last three seasons. He ran fourth last season after consecutive third-place finishes in 2011 and 2012.

• • •

There is not much 64-year-old Mike Rowe has not done at the Oxford 250.

In 1984 he was the first Mainer to ever win the event, the first of his three Oxford 250 titles — something only Dave Dion and Ralph Nason have ever done.

He has finished in the top three five times, tied for the second most all time, with only Butch Lindley (six) having accomplished the feat more often.

Rowe — who has qualified for the event 30 times, another record he owns — set more history in 2005 when he became the first to win the last chance qualifier and main event in the same year. He started 37th, the worst starting position for a champion.

When the 41st Oxford 250 rolls around Sunday, Rowe seeks to set even more history.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to do it three times,” he said. “Like I say, all three times I was real patient. I didn’t get the lead until late in the race and that’s what I have to do Sunday.

“… If you draw last you have to be patient and go into the consis and do what you have to do. You can’t go out there and try to get under somebody and wreck yourself. You’ve got to be able to get into the race.”

If the veteran racer can pull out a win on Sunday he will cement his legacy as arguably the greatest Oxford 250 driver of all time. A victory would make him the first driver to win four Oxford 250s, all of which would be in a different decade. It would also tie him with Lindley for most career top-three finishes.

Given the way he has run so far this season — third overall in the Pro All Star Series North points standings — Rowe has as good of a chance as anyone.

“We’re running good,” he said. “We were a little tight at Beech Ridge a couple weeks ago. We knew what happened, so hopefully we can get that corrected and if we can, hopefully we’ll be up front.”

• • •

What effect does momentum have from one race to the next?

The mythical, immeasurable yet somehow palpable feeling plays into auto racing exactly how one would expect — it depends on who you ask.

Joey Doiron — who enters the Oxford 250 fresh off a victory at the Southern Maine Motors Firecracker 150 at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway — is hoping to repeat his success from Fourth of July weekend.

“I think momentum is a huge thing in this sport,” Doiron said. “I’d rather go into the race knowing you were on top of your game last time rather than finishing 30th.

“… Everyone’s going to have a bad race here and there but at the same time I’d rather not have my bad race be the week before the big one. I feel like whenever we have a bad race I usually second guess everything on my end.”

The same goes for Preston Peltier, who is making the trip north for Sunday’s race after winning the PASS South Southern National 150 last time out.

Of course, then there is the other side of the equation where entrants D.J. Shaw, Johnny Clark and Shawn Martin fall into place.

While Doiron took the win at Beech Ridge two weeks ago, Shaw had his worst race of the season, finished 22nd and lost the points lead in the process.

“Last week was a little rough for us. (We’re) looking to rebound,” Shaw said. “I think we have everything righted in the right direction. Joey had good success when we’ve faltered but I’m still confident in our set up without any issues.

“… I’m confident we’ve got everything fixed and I’m optimistic about the 250.”

Johnny Clark and Shawn Martin enter Sunday’s race in similar positions. Martin placed ninth in his last race on the very track he’ll compete on Sunday and is the current leader in the Pro Late Model series at Oxford Plains. Clark finished ninth at Beech Ridge but the finish was enough to allow him to take over the PASS North lead from Shaw — a move he is hoping will mean good fortune in Oxford.

“Momentum means something, obviously, but it’s not everything. We finished ninth but then again we’ve got the momentum since we took over the points,” Clark said. “We tried some things at Beech Ridge and it was some last minute set up things. I’ve got that out of my head so I can go fresh into (this weekend).

“We tested there last Friday and we were really pleased when we left. Just having that good test when we left last Friday night just made us feel like we’re heading in the right direction. We’re not completely ready yet but we will be.”

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: Evan_Crawley


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