Austin Theriault is sure he has learned a lot in his summer traveling with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Now he has seven on-track tests to prove whether he’ll further his NASCAR education in 2016.

Theriault, 21, from Fort Kent, will make his seventh of 13 planned starts in the No. 29 Ford F-150 owned by Brad Keselowski Racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Saturday.

“These final seven races are all about putting together that puzzle and hopefully toward the end of the year we put the final picture together and it’s a really solid picture,” Theriault said in a telephone interview from North Carolina, now his home base.

When Theriault signed the deal with BKR in January he knew the truck would be driven at times by Keselowski, Joey Logano or Ryan Blaney. He has attended each of the Truck Series races, trying to glean any detail from drivers, crew and his own focused attention that could translate into improved performance.

“Not one track has been really the same. I’m always learning things at each track,” Theriault said.

Theriault, who is 24th in driver points, posted two early season top-fives. He was fourth and led nine laps in the opener at Daytona International Speedway.

“That was a fun race,” he said. “That was probably the best shot I’ve had so far of winning a race.”

He backed that up with a fifth-place finish in his third start at Texas Motor Speedway, the seventh race in the series, earning Sunoco Rookie of the Race honors.

“He got a top-five in his first start at Texas and you can’t ask for much more than that,” crew chief Chad Kendrick said. “You could see the progression from the start of the race to the end and how much better he got. I think he had more competitive passes during the race than anyone else.”

A 10th at Gateway (Illinois) and 12th at Iowa in the next two tour stops followed.

Then came a planned seven-week hiatus before placing 13th last weekend at Chicagoland.

“We’ve had to hit the reset button a couple times this season,” Theriault said. “It’s hard to build up a rhythm when you’re not racing every week.”

Theriault has also been hurt by some bad luck. At Chicagoland his fuel tank was not topped off because of miscommunication during a pit stop. The mistake led to a miscalculation of the truck’s fuel reserves. Theriault ran out of gas under the green flag, losing three laps to the leaders.

Theriault returned to the track and finished the race – as he has in each race. He has finished on the lead lap in four of his six starts.

“Where I’m at now, the important thing is logging laps and getting as much experience as I can,” he said. “If we go out and wreck on lap 50 it’s not going to do any of us any good.”

Now comes the chance to build a rhythm with his crew and, hopefully, contend for wins.

As he put it, “there will come a time when it’s obviously not good enough” to just complete a race.

The team is capable. It is in sixth place in the owner’s standings. Logano (at Martinsville) and Blaney (at Bristol) have won races.

BKR’s No. 19 truck, driven full time by Tyler Reddick, is second in the points chase.

“The trucks are capable of finishing in the top five pretty much every week,” Theriault said.

Theriault has raced at two of the seven tracks: New Hampshire and Texas.

He finished 21st in a NASCAR Nationwide (now called Xfinity Series) event in 2014 – one of his three starts for the JR Motorsports team co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Theriault is unsigned for the 2016 season.

“As much as I’m anxious to get something wrapped up in 2016, I have to keep that in perspective,” he said. “Last year I ran three races and this year I’ve run six races to this point. I’ve got more (NASCAR) races coming up than I’ve ever run. I have a big opportunity here and I just have to focus on that first.”

 

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