Rico Abreu kisses the wall, then chance at first win goodbye

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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FORT WORTH, TEXAS — Rico Abreu hopped down from his No. 98 Toyota and was immediately met by two crew members.

As William Byron conducted his second victory burnout of the year on the Texas Motor Speedway front stretch, they helped the 4-foot-4 Abreu remove his helmet and safety equipment and told him there was no reason to be mad.

Minutes before, Abreu had gone from running second with three laps to go in the Rattlesnake 400 to finishing ninth, his best result in nine Camping World Truck Series starts.

As Byron drove his No. 9 truck past where Abreu stood on pit road, on the way to victory lane, one crew member told the Abreu he had just experienced some of the most fun he’d ever had.

When Byron passed Matt Crafton with five laps to go, Abreu soon followed. The native of St. Helena, California, spent the next two laps driving like he had for most of the race and his whole career – staying as close to the Texas Motor Speedway wall as possible.

“When it gets hot and slick like that, your tires get wore out; I just felt so comfortable up there,” Abreu said of the area of the track and style of racing he mastered while rising through the ranks on dirt tracks.

The driver Abreu was chasing down had the same strategy. However, Byron, who won his first race at Kansas Speedway last month, “wasn’t paying attention much” to Abreu as he bore down on him.

“I was still running the top, because that’s what I was running (all night),” Byron said. “Then they said ‘two back’ and I was like ‘Man, we’ve got to figure something out here, so I got to make sure I hit both corners right.'”

Byron did that, taking away Abreu’s racing line, which Byron called the “name of the game” Friday night.

“A couple of guys took my line away and got me into the wall a bit, but you just can’t give up on it,” Byron said. “That outside gives you such huge momentum down the frontstretch.”

Abreu took the momentum he had and reached Byron’s bumper as they came down to two laps to go. But as they entered Turn 1, Abreu’s favorite place on the track became very uncomfortable.

“I figured I maybe could have cleared him off of (Turn) 4, maybe coming to the white,” Abreu said. “But I just got too tight behind him and got into the wall. Can’t have that stuff happening.”

Abreu kept his speed up enough that teammate Matt Crafton, who was running in third, believed Abreu would have “definitely” finished second.

But those chances ended after the white flag when Abreu once again impacted the wall in Turn 2. This time, he didn’t leave the wall until he was on the backstretch.

“That shows how much heart he had that he wanted to win the race,” said Crafton, who led a race-high 133 laps. “He likes that high, wide and handsome stuff and it bit him right there.”

The loss didn’t shake the confidence of Abreu, who started the night in 13th. But he felt bad for the crew members that met him after the best night of his short Truck career.

“They built a great truck this weekend and I just smashed it all,” Abreu said. “I got speed, I just got to put a whole damn night together. I haven’t figured that part out yet.”