It’s official, Rico Abreu will drive the No. 98 Curb Records Toyota Tundra for ThorSport Racing.
As Motorsport.com revealed on Wednesday, the 2014 USAC Midget Series Champion and defending Chili Bowl Championship will run the full Camping World Truck Series and compete for Sunoco rookie-of-the-year honors.
Abreu, who turns 24 later this month, joins 2013-2014 Camping World Truck Series Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes and a driver to be named on the Thorsport roster. He told reporters at Tulsa Expo Raceway on Friday, that he’s up for the challenge.
“I’ve really been looking forward to this moment,” said Abreu. “It’s been really difficult to keep it a secret but I’m really looking forward to working with all these guys at ThorSport and building a relationship with Matt and Duke [team owner Thorson] and Doug and Tracy [Hines] as well. I’ve had history with Tracy on the open wheel side.
“I’ve got some high goals for 2016. I’m working on finishing all 23 races. My biggest thing is finishing races because if you’re not finishing you’re not learning from them.”
Matt LaNeve, ThorSport's vp of sales and marketing, described Abreu as a “refreshing talent [who] will bring new energy” into the Truck series.
“We’re really excited to have Rico on board,” LaNeve said. “With Rico’s background, he has a pedigree of winning at every level and he’s been an awesome young man to get to know and meet over the last six weeks.
“Watching Rico work with the trucks, his crew, his crew chief – which will be veteran crew chief Doug George – it’s really easy to see why Rico has won at every level and where he’s been up until now.
"In the past six weeks, I’ve also seen Rico work a lot with our two-time champion Matt Crafton. Not only has he worn out his ear, he’s worn out his cell phone, but in the end, that’s a good thing. We’re looking forward to a great year.”
Crafton, who joined ThorSport in 2000, has been impressed by Abreu’s desire for knowledge.
“Super pumped to have a teammate so eager to learn,” Crafton said. “Really excited to see how good he is going to be in a Tundra.”
After winning from the pole at Columbus (Ohio) Motor Speedway and finishing fifth in his first full season in the K&N Pro Series East Tour, Abreu made his truck debut on Nov. 13 at Phoenix International Raceway. The St. Helena, Calif. native improved his performance the following week at Homestead-Miami Speedway where he finished 13th.
Abreu says the conversion of weight ratio — moving to a vehicle that’s 2,200 pounds heavier than his Midget — was quite challenging.
“I really picked up at Homestead last year just the roll speed,” Abreu said. “Instead of trying to drive it so hard into the corner, backing that corner up and letting the truck roll as much as you can, that helped me a ton. At the end of the race, I started running lap times as fast as the leaders.”
ThorSport also announced the addition of USAC Triple Crown winner Tracy Hines as its new competition director. LaNeve believes Hines background will help Abreu as he continues his transition from open wheel to trucks.
“In our 21 years, we have never had a director of competition,” LaNeve said. “Bringing someone in like Tracy Hines — a Triple Crown winner who has not only won on dirt but on asphalt is going to add so much as he works with our four drivers and our four crew chiefs to be able to pool those resources and add velocity to our learning curve to help us run better across the board. We really think that’s going to help our race team.”
Hines, 43, raced for ThorSport in 2004 and ’05 and again in the inaugural Midsummer Classic. He’s maintained a solid relationship with the organization and team owner Duke Thorson, who has also assisted the driver in other motorsports pursuits. The New Castle, Ind. native is moving to the team’s home base in Sandusky, Ohio.
“I’ve had history with Tracy on the open wheel side,” Abreu said. “Tracy has done this before so he can definitely help me coming from the open wheel side to the truck series — just stock car racing in general.
He can help with the learning curve and he knows a lot about how the trucks work. He’ll be a great help to me.”