PHOTO: Austin Theriault used a different strategy than most drivers and secured his second consecutive third-place finish in the TD Bank 250. (T.J. Ingerson/VMM photo)
–by Ricky St. Clair
OXFORD, Maine — All Austin Theriault needed was a little bit more time.
The 18-year-old Fort Kent, Maine native finished on the TD Bank 250 podium for the second consecutive year after starting sixth and running inside the top-10 for most of the 250-lap event.
The 2012 version of the mid-summer classic featured a mere three caution periods, occurring on laps 69, 135, and 208, respectively. Theriault, who’s the current number four point man on the American-Canadian Tour, wanted nothing more than his first 250 win, but was content with the third-place result.
“It wasn’t a caution-filled race, so we knew that we weren’t going to have enough time to get up to (winner) Joey (Polewarczyk, Jr.) and all them,” Theriault said. “Third-place isn’t winning, but we’ll take it.”
Theriault’s family owned team elected to replace just left side tires on a lap 135 caution period, while the majority of the lead lap cars swapped all four tires. Theriault fought with the handling of the car after that point.
“It was a handful to be honest,” Theriault admitted. “We knew it was going to happen and it was something we planned for. I know left (side tires) don’t matter a whole lot, but they do when you’re racing against guys who had taken all four. I tried to save the equipment and stay on the lead lap.”
After a lap 208 caution for a one-car spin on the frontstretch, Theriault pitted out of tenth place to replace right side tires. The move relocated the hotshoe to 13th place on the ensuing restart. With two fresh tires, Theriault marched back through the field, but fell just short of the win.
“I knew once that caution came out on lap 208, we probably weren’t going to win,” Theriault said. “You try to gamble, but sometimes it doesn’t pay off.”
Theriault’s emotions following the historic race spelled melancholy, but the Brad Keselowski Racing development driver found a speckle of optimism after failing to grab a starting spot two years ago. One year ago, he returned to his family-owned ride for the TD Bank 250 while driving a car for RPM Motorsports on the American-Canadian Tour.
“Last year, we were just hoping to qualify and get a top-20 and finish on the lead lap,” Theriault said. “We knew we had a good car coming into the race, but it just didn’t work out. I’m still excited, but it was a bigger thing last year. I don’t know if we were quicker than (Polewarczyk and Jeff Taylor), but we were coming.”
Theriault elected to run a brand new Crazy Horse Racing car in the TD Bank 250 and was 1.626 seconds behind race winner Polewarczyk at the start-finish line and within contention of second-place finisher Taylor.