Theriault, Sargeant overcome new-car blues at Michigan

TOLEDO, Ohio (June 19, 2017) -- If you're into stats, you may be keeping close tabs on current ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards championship points leader Austin Theriault. In just 10 Series starts, the Fort Kent, Maine racer has earned 8 top-5 finishes (including 3 wins), and none outside the top-10. Theriault, driver of the No. 52 Ken Schrader Racing Ford, helped his average finish in a big way with a runner-up run at Michigan Int'l Speedway Friday. That gives Theriault a career average finish of 3.7.

"We don't really look at stats too much…it's just a number for us," said Theriault. "We'd rather focus on team performance and our communication. We tend to evaluate where we are as a team rather than from our statistics. If you have good communication and performance, then you've already got the numbers. One reflects the other."

Theriault's career finishing order stats are now as follows: 3 wins (Michigan, Daytona and Elko), 2nd at Michigan, 4th at Pocono, Nashville and Talladega, 5th at Salem, 6th at Toledo and 9th at Pocono.

"It's been a great year so far…at the same time, we're still striving for more. I've been fortunate to be with good teams in ARCA. We won the race in my debut (MIS 2014), did one more with Venturini and the rest with Schrader. It feels good going to the race track and knowing we can compete…I'm honored to be a part of it."

Theriault and team and still working the bugs out of their new intermediate car they debuted at Pocono last week where they finished 9th, the team's worst performance to date. But wouldn't a new car be the hot ticket? It's a process in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards, according to Theriault.

"I think it's a couple things. The ARCA Racing Series is more geared toward not as much engineering as the bigger series, and that's a good thing for the series…it's affordable, relatively speaking, and designed for low cost. There are certain things on the engineering side that haven't crept into the series like you see in the bigger series. Most people over here aren't spending time in wind tunnels to get the maximum performance. The wind tunnel here is when you take it to the track for the first time and then you sort it out as you go."

And "sort it out" they have done, evidenced by the team's second-place finish at Michigan after the 9th at Pocono. Despite all the sorting out along the way, Theriault knows he can still come here and compete for wins and championships, all the while working out the bugs from race to race.

"This is why you can come here and run up front. Most of us here aren't at the level where you're completely aligned with a Cup team. You just keep sorting it out as you go. By the end of the year, you should have a better feel of what the car needs."

Different story on the short tracks.

"For us, our short track cars have been around a lot longer…much of the sorting out is done. On the big tracks, we just have one or two cars in position, so we have to protect them."

Sargeant sorts through new-car blues at Michigan
Dalton Sargeant was another driver who sorted through the new-car blues at Michigan, and even more so than Theriault. Sargeant crashed in qualifying at Pocono the week before. After hastily preparing a back-up car just in time for the race -- they literally turned a short-track car into a superspeedway car in about an hour -- the team was still tasked with building a brand-new intermediate car in time for Michigan. After some all-nighters, the team unloaded at Michigan way off their typical mark, coming in 18th on the practice chart.

“We had a pretty strong day at Michigan,” said Sargeant, “We had a brand-new car we brought up there and the first time it hit the track was Thursday at practice. There were a lot of things that had to be worked out on it and the guys on the team worked all day to make sure it was right where we needed it to be. A third-place finish isn’t bad…we were really hoping for a win, but another top-five is a solid points day and another strong finish in this No. 77 Big Tine Ford Fusion to add to the season and I’m proud of our effort this past weekend.” 

Sargeant isn’t the only one that’s proud of the team’s drive lately. Crew chief Chad Bryant has said all along the determination of the team paired with Sargeant’s talent has created championship potential to last the season. 

“I’m really proud of how everything is coming along,” said Bryant. “Dalton has so much potential and each race he continues to show that potential. It doesn’t matter what situation we’re in, whether it’s starting from the back at Pocono or bringing a new car to Michigan, he does what he has to do to get to the top. He’s a great driver to work with…he’s young and is willing to learn and make mistakes to get better. Every race this team puts it all out on the line and I definitely think we have what it takes to win the championship.”

Weatherman's heartbreak continues
While things went well for Theriault and Sargeant, it was more heartbreak for Kyle Weatherman. The Wentzville, Missouri driver led a whopping 71 of 100 laps before his victory lane pursuits glanced off the backstretch wall, while leading, just seven laps from the finish. It was the third time this year that the Mason Mitchell Motorsports team led the most laps, without bringing it to Victory Lane.

“We had a dominating race car,” said a disappointed Weatherman. “It’s disappointing to lead the most laps and have nothing to show for it. These guys work so hard to build fast cars. General Tire brought a great tire here and it held up perfectly. We are determined as a team to turn our bad luck around. When we do, the wins will come. I'm looking forward to heading to Iowa next month. It'll be my 50th ARCA race and I’ve always raced well at Iowa.”

Jones back-to-back at Michigan
Brandon Jones became the first back-to-back Michigan winner in more than 20 years, since 3-time ARCA champion Tim Steele pulled off the feat in 1996 and '97. Jones added his fourth career ARCA Racing Series victory to his stat sheet. The Atlanta, Georgia driver made ARCA headlines right off the bat, going back-to-back in the win column in his first two series starts at Winchester Speedway and Lucas Oil Raceway in 2014. Jones turned his ARCA win at Michigan into a respectable 9th-place finish in the next-day NASCAR XFINITY Series race. Jones also earned his second career General Tire ARCA pole award with a speed of 190.683 mph. He also recorded the fastest lap of the race at 188.294 mph.

Career-best for Codie at Michigan
Petersburg, West Virginia's Codie Rohrbaugh planted himself in the career-best column Friday at Michigan, finishing 8th in the No. 7 Grant County Mulch Chevrolet. Rohrbaugh's got himself on a steady track toward the front after his 12th-place run at Pocono the week before.

Plus and minus for VMS at Michigan
It wasn't a career day for Venturini Motorsports at Michigan, but the team managed to squeeze two top-10 finishes out of the Corrigan Oil 200, Kyle Benjamin, despite front-end damage from a crash off turn 4, finished 7th with Spencer Davis trailing in 9th. That was extremely good news compared to Zane Smith's day in the No. 55 Musselman's Toyota. Smith was running inside the top-10 when the Huntington Beach, Calif. driver made hard contact with outside safer barrier after cutting a right-front tire, ending his day on lap 48. Smith, visibly shaken, climbed out of the car under his own power and took an immediate seat next to his car. After taking the mandatory ride to the infield care center, Smith walked out okay.

"That was definitely the hardest hit I've ever taken," Smith said afterward. "I just hate it for the guys. They work their asses off back in the shop building these fast Musselman's-Icon Vehicle Dynamics Toyotas. We've now had two torn up in the last three weeks because of bad luck. Hardest part about this is how strong we've been. We built up a lot of momentum coming into Michigan. We'll just have to reset and regroup for Madison...looking forward to some short track racing."

Smith had a hard crash at Elko Speedway in early June. In between was a 4th-place run at Pocono, tying his career-best.

Benjamin rallies
“We had a really fast Toyota today,” said Kyle Benjamin. “I believe we had a car capable of challenging for the win. We were running second or third when that caution came out for the 55 car and then the 78 of Weatherman just got me loose and I spun. That hurt us...I ended up restarting 14th. Even with a bit of front end damage the car was fast. We made our way back up inside the top-10 for decent finish.”

Davis overcomes fuel pressure issues
"We lost fuel pressure at the beginning and lost a ton of spots right away,” said Spencer Davis. "Once I got back up to speed we settled in. It was a huge learning experience for me out there today. We didn't get the finish we wanted but I gained a lot of knowledge for my next big track start."

Theriault and Sargeant competing for championship
Theriault carries a 140-points lead over Sargeant headed to the next track on tour at the Madison Int'l Speedway short-track this Friday (June 23). 250 points are the maximum a driver can earn in any one race. That said, Theriault, who's managed to keep himself out of the DNF column, understands he's got to keep doing what he's been doing.

"I'm at the shop right now, working on a couple debriefings," Theriault said. "We're coming off a busy couple of weeks…we haven't had the time to reflect or catch up. We'll have an extra day or two in the shop this week, so I'm sure it's time to sit down for a quick meeting, go over everything and get caught up."

Theriault's never been to Madison
"I feel like I pick up on the short tracks pretty well. It's something I've grown up doing. I'll watch some video and talk to some people who've been there…that's all we can do at this point. We'll figure it out when we get there…I feel like we'll be pretty close."

"Save Big Money" on discounted tickets at Menards for Madison
Discounted tickets for the Friday, June 23 Montgomery Ward 200 ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards event at Madison Int’l Speedway are still available at 27 Menards stores across southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

The offer for discounted tickets will remain in place up through June 22. Tickets purchased at participating Menards stores are available for just $15, which is $10 off the raceday gate price of $25. Kids 6 - 11 are just $10 at the track gate. Kids 5 and under are free. For a complete listing of participating Menards stores selling discounted tickets, CLICK HERE.

ARCA’s 9th trip to Madison Int’l Speedway
The ARCA Racing Series stretches out over five decades at Madison Int’l Speedway, having first raced there in July of 1970 – two-time ARCA champion Ramo Stott won the inaugural race. Tom Bowsher won the ARCA race at Madison in May of 1971, and Bruce Gould is in the history books as the 1973 ARCA winner. However, nearly 40 years would go by before the ARCA Racing Series would return to Madison in 2011. 

Modern-day ARCA winners at Madison make ARCA/NASCAR champs
More recent ARCA winners at Madison include Josh Williams (2016), Justin Boston (2014), Kyle Benjamin (2013), Chris Buescher (2012) and Alex Bowman (2011). Buescher, the 2012 ARCA Racing Series national champion, earned the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship in 2015. Buescher is now a full-time driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Bowman also went on to compete in the Xfinity and Cup Series.

Weekend schedule/On-track autograph session/Media coverage
Practice for the ARCA Racing Series at Madison is Friday, June 23 from 1:30 - 3 p.m., with General Tire Pole Qualifying following at 5. An on-track autograph session goes from 6:30 - 7:30, followed by pre-race ceremonies and driver introductions. The 200-lap Montgomery Ward 200 at Madison begins at 8 p.m. Friday night. The race airs live on MAVTV. There will also be live timing and scoring and live chat at ARCAracing.com. All times are local, Central.

Don Radebaugh
dradebaugh@arcaracing.com

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