Rico Abreu’s two racing worlds collide today. And he’s hoping it has quite the impact on his career.
Abreu, 24, has been slinging dirt in midget and sprint cars the past six years. This year he’s also attacking the asphalt with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Both merge today when NASCAR runs its lone race on dirt among its three national divisions (Sprint Cup, Xfinity and Camping World) with the Aspen Dental Eldora Dirt Derby at Eldora Speedway, the famed — and often feared — high-banked, half-mile oval in Darke County.
“The fan base there, it goes both ways with the dirt side and the NASCAR side,” Abreu said of his favorite track. “I think it’s great that NASCAR hosts an event there just to merge those fans.”
Abreu is already a fan favorite at Eldora. And that was before his sensational runner-up finish in the Kings Royal winged sprint car race Saturday night. Among his other Eldora accomplishments are a midget feature win at the USAC 4-Crown Nationals in 2013 and an All Start Circuit of Champions win in October 2014.
On Saturday he came up 0.519 seconds shy of the $50,000-to-win Kings Royal, one of the crown jewel events in all of dirt racing. He finished third in 2015.
He’s quickly becoming a fan favorite at the NASCAR tracks, too.
“I’m unbelievably humbled at the fan base I have at these race tracks,” said Abreu, who stands 4-foot-4 after being born with achondroplasia, a genetic disorder that causes dwarfism.
“The more and more I get to these tracks it seems like the more fans that start following. I just wish I would be more successful than what I’ve done the past few months. I know there’s a lot of high expectations. I want to show the fans who are rooting for me that I really am a racer, not just someone showing up to coast and collect.”
Abreu enters Eldora 14th in driver points wheeling the No. 98 Safelite/Curb Records Toyota Tundra for Ohio’s ThorSport Racing. He’s also fifth in rookie points.
Six Truck Series races remain until the Chase. The top eight drivers qualify. Five have all but locked up Chase spots with wins.
“I feel like we’re really close in the truck, we need things to go right,” he said. “There have been a few errors and mistakes on my side that have set us back each race. Once I learn to minimize my mistakes through a race those better finishes will come.”
Prior to the Kings Royal, Abreu was asked which win he’d want more: The Kings Royal or Dirt Derby?
“I feel like the Truck win would be really special for me being at Eldora on dirt,” Abreu said. “There’s only been a few a different winners there. I know how tough it is to win these Truck races. That would definitely be at the top to win a Truck race there.”
His best career finish in a Trucks race is ninth at Texas Motor Speedway in June.
Eldora Speedway presents a unique challenge for even the veteran dirt drivers. Newcomers can expect that Eldora Experience where dirt novices get a rude welcome from the track’s unforgiving concrete walls.
“Oh yeah. I’ve crashed there many times,” Abreu said, laughing.
At the same time, he’s trying not to put too much pressure on the Dirt Derby. Or the Chase.
“At the end of the day it’s another race track,” he said. “It’s a special track but it’s just another dirt track.
“I just hope it’s an exciting race. I hope a Toyota truck wins, and I hope I’m one of those Toyota trucks.”
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