By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
Though the 2020 rookie campaign has been anything but easy-going for Raphael Lessard, Sunday at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course gave him a much-needed confidence boost.
Running his first season with Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, the Canadian driver took advantage of the series’ only road course race of the year to grab his first top-five finish in his 17th career start.
The result was his second straight top 10 of 2020, previously scoring none in the opening 10 races of the year.
“It was awesome,” Lessard said. “It was kind of a weird situation because no one has been here before in NASCAR and I felt like that’s what it’s been like for me every race so far this year.
“Being a rookie with no practice, every time I get into Turn 1, the first lap is a first for me. I think it was an advantage going into this race for me because I’m used to it and I can’t thank TRD for allowing us to go to the TRD simulator and practice on the road course. All of that made a big difference for me.”
Leading three laps on the day, it was also the second straight week the 19-year-old led a race in 2020. Needless to say, he is enjoying the recent surge in speed.
“I feel like we’re a little bit on a roll now,” he said. “We had a pretty good week last week in Michigan. I felt like Michigan we had a winning truck there, but we had two flat tires. Came back and now I feel like we had a winning truck again and we finished third.
“I felt like in the lead, you had to push pretty hard to keep up with the guy behind you. I don’t think we could have had a shot at it at the end. The No. 2 (Sheldon Creed) truck was really fast. I was trying to be a little bit conservative and trying to bring my Mobil1 Toyota Tundra home.”
With multiple drivers struggling with the high heat on the Florida track, Lessard soldiered on through the conditions.
“It was really hot,” he said. “During the caution I asked for a bunch of water. I was just throwing water at myself. At the end, I think it was the hottest I’ve been in a race car. We pushed through it.”
Lessard still sits outside the playoff cutline with only three races left in the regular season.
“We’re a team capable of winning for sure, I feel like I’m doing everything I can. I’m studying video, I’m asking questions – Kyle Busch is helping a lot. It’s just a matter of time. We’re pushing hard for it. At this point of the season, we’re not going for stage points, we’re going for the win. That’s what we’ve been doing the last few races and we’ve had our best finishes. We’re just going to keep on working and heading the right direction.
“I’ve been wanting those results since the beginning of the season and we just keep on working. I think it’s coming. We’re going to push hard.”
It was a career-best finish for @raphael_lessard on the road course at @DISupdates, where he finished third. The driver of the @Mobil1 Tundra describes his day:@ToyotaRacing pic.twitter.com/MbYD4TcWLk
— Kyle Busch Motorsports (@KBMteam) August 16, 2020