ROSSBURG, Ohio — It’s a regular occurrence to see Rico Abreu at a dirt track with a smile on his face, but the trademark grin he carried was just a little bit wider during the fan autograph session for Wednesday night’s Eldora Dirt Derby at Eldora Speedway.
For Abreu, it meant a chance to come back to the NASCAR ranks in a year where he’s largely returned to his roots, running dirt sprint cars and midgets across the country and piling up wins along the way.
Though a lack of sponsorship meant that he was unable to return to ThorSport Racing for a second full-season after nearly grabbing a win at Texas Motor Speedway in 2016 and finishing 13th in the championship standings, he paid a nod to team owner Duke Thorson’s willingness to give him another shot at one of his favorite race tracks.
“Every chance you get to come to a track like Eldora, you respect it,” Abreu said. “It means a lot to me to be back here, and I owe that to Duke for giving me another shot to come here in this truck.”
“I come here to win. That’s the biggest thing for me; I want to come here and contend and be competitive … and rack up those wins while I’m at it. It’s tough to win at a place like this, so any chance you can get to win here is important.”
Abreu’s departure from the truck has allowed for him to flourish yet again in sprint cars and midgets, most recently winning in a winged sprint car at Mansfield Motor Speedway on Sunday night.
He says that he has enjoyed the return to his “usual” schedule this year.
“I’ve been having a blast,” Abreu said of his recent racing adventures. “Anything I get to race, I just love it … whether its a winged sprint car, non-wing sprint car, USAC midget or a truck … I just enjoy the next race up on the schedule, no matter what it’s in or where it is.”
For a driver used to running open wheel cars at Eldora and averaging 130+ miles per hour around the half-mile dirt oval, Abreu says it takes the exact opposite approach when it comes to the Trucks.
“It takes a lot more patience to run a Truck at Eldora,” he explained. “You’re going from running 13-second laps to 22-second laps around this place, so it slows down a lot compared to what I’m used to and what someone like (Christopher) Bell is used to here. It’s a different feel, but we’ll be good. We’ve got a good piece.”
“I’m banking on the track slicking off tonight, to where we’ll be able to move around a lot and run all over the place,” Abreu added. “That’s where I feel like our team will be at its best.”
Does he think he can win after a podium effort in last year’s race, after being edged out by close friends Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell?
“We’ll see what we can do this time around,” Abreu said with a smile. “This field is pretty stout, even without (Kyle) Larson in it. A lot of these guys have plenty of dirt experience … and others get to come back year after year and keep running the Truck race here at Eldora, so I’m just looking forward to a solid day and getting better all throughout the race. If we do that, then we should be in contention when it comes down to the end.”
“It’d be pretty cool. I think tonight’s our night.”
And as far as a potential return to NASCAR on a regular basis, Abreu kept those cards close to the vest, only saying that he’d be interested if the circumstances were right.
“We’ll have to see what happens and if we can put something solid together. Never say never, right?”
Abreu will take to the track in the chrome-blue No. 89 Curb Records Toyota for ThorSport Racing tonight at 9:30 p.m. (FOX Business, MRN, SiriusXM), when the fifth annual Eldora Dirt Derby gets the green flag.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 23-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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