Fort Kent native Austin Theriault has slowly been climbing through the stock car racing ranks in recent years. His ultimate goal is to drive in the NASCAR Cup Series, the sport’s highest level.
The 26-year-old Theriault hasn’t raced in any of the three major NASCAR Series divisions this season and is already setting his sights on 2021.
Due to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, he hasn’t sought out sponsorships like he normally would.
“It’s not good timing right now. You are a lot better off waiting,” Theriault said. “This has been a challenging year, all in all, and I’m not alone.”
Lack of sponsorship backing is among the factors that have hampered Theriault in his quest to earn a Cup Series ride.
At the end of the season, Corey LaJoie is leaving the Go FAS Racing team owned by Archie St. Hilaire of Old Orchard Beach, the only Maine owner of a NASCAR Cup Series team. He said Theriault is not a candidate to fill the full-time seat in the No. 32 Ford.
“I would love to put Austin in the car, but it’s a business and he doesn’t have the experience we need to do what we’re going to do,” St. Hilaire said.
“He is a good driver and a great kid and he has great people in his family,” he added. “A lot of guys on our team are from New England and I would love to put a Maine guy in the seat.”
LaJoie is leaving Go FAS Racing after two seasons to try to hook on with a more competitive team.
Theriault made his NASCAR Cup debut for the underfunded Rick Ware Racing Team last season. He drove in five races with an average starting position of 33.4 and an average finish of 33.6.
He also has six NASCAR Xfinity races and 13 Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series races on his resume.
By contrast, LaJoie had 57 Cup Series starts, 22 Xfinity Series and two Truck races under his belt before he joined Go FAS Racing in 2019. Matt DiBenedetto, the team’s driver in 2017 and 2018, had 68 Cup Series and 68 Xfinity Series races to his credit prior to joining St. Hilaire’s team.
Theriault said experience isn’t the only dynamic in the equation.
“Having a driver coming in who has a couple million dollars [in sponsorship money] will be a plus,” said Theriault, who doesn’t have that kind of financial backing.
St. Hilaire, who also has an underfunded team compared to the higher-profile entities, said sponsorship money is an important piece of such a deal. Go FAS Racing is having its best season since they settled on one full-time season driver four years ago.
LaJoie’s average finish is 24.3 on the strength of one top-10 finish and six top-20s. He was 21st at Saturday night’s race at Daytona International Speedway.
The team has an engine agreement with Stewart-Haas Racing that has provided Go FAS Racing with a significant upgrade and more competitive race cars.
Theriault would like to race in one of the three NASCAR divisions for a team that is somewhat competitive.
“When I have been on competitive teams, that has normally worked out well for me,” Theriault said.
He was the 2017 ARCA Menard Series points champion thanks to seven victories and 16 top-five finishes in 20 races. He finished in the top 10 five times and had two top-five efforts in 13 Truck Series races.
Theriault said he gained valuable experience driving for Ware Racing in the Cup Series last year, when he earned NASCAR approval to be able to run at any size Cup Series racetrack.