Vankor 350 (Race 8 of 23), 167 Laps – 40/40/87; 250 Miles
Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth (1.5-mile quad-oval)
July 18, 2020, at 8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR 90
Racing with Raphael
Raphael Lessard and the No. 4 JBL team head to Texas Motor Speedway, where the 19-year-old Canadian driver will make his first start in the NASCAR Truck Series at the 1.5-mile oval. Lessard has five career starts on 1.5-mile ovals, where he has an average start of 14.8 and an average finish of 17.4. He is in his first full-time season in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series and is competing for Rookie of the Year honors with veteran crew chief Mike Hillman Jr. While he has not made a start at the Texas track, he did participate in a rookie test alongside his KBM teammate Christian Eckes in early March.
So far in 2020, Lessard has seven starts, with an average starting position of 13.7 and an average finishing position of 20.6. The Toyota Racing Development Driver’s season-best finish was an 11th-place result at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway. He is currently ranked 15th in Gander Trucks driver points standings, 55 points behind Johnny Sauter for the 10th and final spot for the playoffs, and fifth in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings.
Lessard made five Gander Trucks starts in 2019, three of those with Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM). Across his five starts he posted two top-10 finishes while recording an average starting position of 10.4 and average finish of 11.1. Lessard’s strongest run came in his final start of the season when he was running inside the top five with under 30 laps remaining before getting spun and relegated to a 12th-place finish.
While Lessard may be a newcomer to the Gander Trucks, Hillman Jr. has plenty of experience. The veteran crew chief has 307 Gander Truck Series starts under his belt, with 22 wins, 23 poles, 115 top-five and 170 top-10 finishes with drivers including Todd Bodine, Jeb Burton, Kyle Busch and last season, Harrison Burton. At Texas Motor Speedway, Hillman has 25 Gander Trucks starts and his drivers have earned six wins (Todd Bodine: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010; Jeb Burton: 2013), 11 top-five and 13 top-10 finishes, with an average start of 9.5 and an average finish of 11.0.
Due to Lessard’s presence in the series, all 23 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Series races this season will be broadcast throughout Canada on RDS and RDS DIRECT.
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It’s expected to be in the mid-90s when the race starts on Saturday. How do you prepare for racing in extreme weather conditions?
“Well, it is supposed to be really hot at Texas this weekend, but I’m really lucky to be part of a great organization like TRD. They have a gym for us drivers that we can go to with a coach that know everything we have to do be in good shape and be prepared for those really long races and hot days. I’ve been pushing really hard the past few weeks in the gym… since the beginning of the year I’ve been pushing really hard. I’m just ready for it. I’m in really good shape right now, and I can’t way to see how good of shape I’m in in the heat of Texas.”
You were able to participate in a rookie test at Texas earlier this year. How did it go and what were you able to learn?“
Yes, we tested at Texas at the beginning of the year for a rookie test. I felt like it went really good. I didn’t have much experience on big racetracks, so I think we are going to better when we go back this weekend. I learned a lot with the races on big racetracks we’ve had this year so far. The test I learned that (Turns) Three and Four are different than (Turns) One and Two. One and Two is pretty flat going in and flat going off the corner. It is very hard to judge to see how much speed you can carry in One and Two because you are a little bit on edge compared to Three and Four, where there is a lot of banking and wide open all the time. We will see. I thought we were good at the test. We had a great JBL Toyota Tundra, so hopefully we can be really good this weekend.”
It’s your first start in any series at Texas. From what you have seen in preparing for the race and being able to test there, will the racing be similar to what it was at Kentucky last week with being hard to pass?
“Yeah – It’s my first start at Texas, and I’ve never ran there before besides the test. I feel like what I’ve learned from watching film and being there that it is going to be hard to pass like Kentucky. Kentucky was a one groove racetrack. This year it was the outside working for us and everyone else, so It was very hard to pass. For Texas, I feel like with the heat and how hot it is going to be that everyone will be fighting for the bottom, especially in (Turns) One and Two. We will see. There is going to be a lot of drafting, timing your runs, and timing your pass right. I’ve been studying. I’m ready for it. I’ve talked with my crew chief Mike Hillman Jr. and my team about it. I feel like we should be really good. Hopefully we can get a good race going for JBL this weekend.”
Raphael Lessard Career Highlights:
- Across 12 career Truck Series starts has produced two top-10 finishes and an average finish of 16.7.
- In 2019, Lessard posted 83 laps led, two top-five and three top-10 finishes across three ARCA Menards Series starts and one win, one top-five and two top-10 finishes in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series. His Pinty’s Series victory came at his hometown track, Autodrome Chaudiere in Vallee-Jonction, Quebec, on June 29 when he led a race-high 153 laps en route to the sentimental win.
- Won two marquee events driving KBM’s famed No. 51 Super Late Model in 2018; the Short Track U.S. Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway in May and the Red Bud 400 ARCA/CRA Super Series race at Anderson Speedway in July.
- Overall in 16 starts for KBM in 2018 split across the CARS Super Late Model Tour, the Southern Super Series and the ARCA/CRA Super Series, posted two wins, three poles, seven top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 2018.Started seventh and led 68 laps in the prestigious Snowball Derby at 5 Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla.
- Captured the 2016 CARS Super Late Model Tour championship after recording four wins, one pole, 157 laps led, eight top-five and nine top-10 finishes across 10 races.
Raphael Lessard’s No. 4 JBL Tundra:KBM-059: The No. 4 JBL team will unload chassis number KBM-059, which has been raced five times. The last time this chassis was used was at Phoenix Raceway in November with Chandler Smith.
TIL. NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!