NASCAR is a sport driven by personalities and its success going forward will be on how well they develop colorful characters that fans can get behind.
Rico Abreu has the makings of that sort of star in the sport. Fans have already gravitated to Abreu, a 4-foot-4 driver who has shown talent and a penchant for world-class burnouts.
Abreu (pronounced A-brew) ranks among the top attractions in Friday’sCamping World Truck Series’ Rattlesnake 400 at Texas Motor Speedway, and track president Eddie Gossage would love to see him visit Victory Lane.
“He’s got a magnetic personality and, without being insensitive, there’s something unique about him obviously,” Gossage said. “He could really add a lot to the sport just by being super competitive and he’s been competitive in the trucks so far.
“The bottom line is he has talent and the first person I heard about him from was Tony Stewart. Tony said, ‘This guy is unbelievable. You’ve got to keep your eyes on him.’ ”
That’s high praise, considering Stewart is a three-time Sprint Cup champion and a team owner with an eye for spotting talent.
It’s easy to see why Abreu has garnered the attention he has. He’s funny and outgoing and his inspirational story has fans wanting to see him succeed.
Abreu, 24, was born with a genetic disorder that limits bone growth known as Achondroplasia. But that hasn’t slowed him from chasing his racing dreams.
Abreu entered the scene as a dirt track racer and has won the Chili Bowl National in Oklahoma the past two years. His win in January went viral when he celebrated with 14 full spins.
Abreu has also had success in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, winning once with four top-five finishes last year. He made his truck debut last year and landed a full-time ride with ThorSport Racing this season.
Abreu has only one top-10 run through six races this season, but he’s learning every time he gets behind the wheel of his No. 98 Toyota Tundra. And he’s never lost sight of enjoying himself in the process. That’s important and explains why Abreu dismissed a question about if the attention he’s gotten has put too many expectations on him.
“Not any expectations on my end,” Abreu said. “I’ve had a lot of success open-wheel racing, sprint cars, midgets, go-karts and the K&N East Series last year. I just feel like the truck series is the next step.
“The success I’ve had so far haven’t been off results, but the people who have been around me or affiliated with me every weekend have seen it. So I’m happy with where I’m at right now. I’m not in any rush. I plan on being here for a long time.”
Abreu admitted he has high expectations of himself and his team Friday night, and he couldn’t have a better mentor for his Texas debut than teammate Matt Crafton.
Crafton is one of eight drivers with multiple truck wins at Texas, winning each of the past two summer races. It came as no surprise that Crafton had the fastest truck after the first practice session Thursday at 178.950 mph. Abreu was ninth at 177.113 mph.
Abreu said being able to talk with Crafton on a daily basis has been “huge” in his development.
“He’s just so detailed about everything he explains and describes and what he feels,” Abreu said. “He’s been doing it for a long time. I don’t expect nothing else.”
Crafton, in return, has gained an appreciation for how Abreu has handled himself as a rookie.
Abreu has garnered much fanfare for his stature and story, but that hasn’t seemed to distract him from the goal of winning races and enjoying himself.
“He’s just worried about driving a race car,” Crafton said. “At the end of the day, it’s about driving a race car and having fun and putting on a good show. That’s what we’re here to do for all the fans and all the people who watch on TV. He looks at that and he’s having fun.
8 p.m. Friday, , FS1