Eight years ago Rico Abreu had never even sat behind the wheel of a race car. Over the course of the last eight years Abreu has since raced almost every type of race car one could possibly think of. From Sprint Cars to Midgets, to Late Models, to NASCAR K&N Pro Series East stock cars, he’s pretty much raced it all. He’s also won in almost all of them.
Now Abreu is stepping up to the upper levels of NASCAR as he will race full-time in 2016 for ThorSport racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The 23-year-old St. Helena, California driver announced his plans at the River Spirit Expo Center, the site of the Chili Bowl Nationals, and his biggest victory one year ago.
“I’ve really been looking forward to this moment,” Abreu said on Friday morning. “I’ve got some high goals for 2016. I’m working on finishing all 23 races. My biggest thing is finishing because if you’re not finishing then you’re not learning, and if you’re not learning then you’re not winning.”
Since that Chili Bowl victory in January of last year, Abreu’s world has kind of been a whirlwind.
“It’s been a big change, especially being able to run all of those cars,” he said. “Going from Chili Bowl to New Smyrna in a Late Model to New Smyrna again in a K&N car and then to Greenville-Pickens in a K&N car and back to Calistoga in a Sprint Car. It was a big change getting used to all those cars I got to run, but I got to win in every car I ran last year. It’s cool. I’m going to do it again this year.”
Abreu’s learning curve has been as fast as possible. He had never raced on pavement before stepping inside a Super Late Model at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway during the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing in February one year ago.
“Starting at New Smyrna last year it just helped adjusting to the difference of going from the shorter wheel
base of the Sprint Cars to the longer wheel base of the stock cars,” Abreu said. “But I was really confused there. I just wasn’t really sure. I didn’t really know what to expect when I got into the Late Model. I had a lot of confidence going into that K&N race there and just got out-experienced.”
He struggled that week, but he didn’t struggle for long. He went to Ohio’s Columbus Motor Speedway on July 4 and won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race. Halfway through his first season on asphalt he was already in victory lane.
“It was huge,” he said. “Especially on Fourth of July. It was definitely a moment that I will cherish forever. Leading there and losing the lead and then getting the lead back in the final few laps, and also starting on the pole with the track record made it really special for me. It was a special day.”
While Abreu’s 2016 calendar is going to mostly focus on racing and winning in the Truck Series, he said he still plans on racing on the short tracks, on both dirt and even the asphalt.
“I definitely want to do some Late Model races,” Abreu said. “We just have to pick and choose which ones to do.”
Now that Abreu’s announcement is out of the way, he still has work to do in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and that’s repeating his Chili Bowl victory on Saturday night. He’s already locked into the 55-lap main event by virtue of winning the A-Main on his preliminary night on Wednesday.
“I’ve got to go to work now and back up this Chili Bowl win,” Abreu said. “That would be the icing on the cake. I think we’re really fast. Fast enough to win this race. We won it last year and we won our preliminary night this year. I think it’s just going to come down to those last 10 laps tomorrow night.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Dave Biro/Speed51.com