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Shadows of Chili Bowl triumph may help Rico Abreu in Kansas Truck race

NextEra Energy Resources 250 - Qualifying

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Rico Abreu, driver of the #98 Safelite Auto Glass Toyota, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway on February 19, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

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It’s been more than three months and 250 miles away, but racing fans in the Kansas City, Kansas, area are still talking about Rico Abreu’s classic back-to-back wins in January’s Chili Bowl in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

That’s why Abreu is happy to be racing this weekend in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Kansas Speedway, because he’s expecting quite a few sprint car fans will come see him.

“I think it’s great to have fans in the dirt world come follow Truck racing or Xfinity racing, now that Kyle (Larson) has come through and moved really quickly through the sport of open-wheel racing to the Cup Series,” Abreu said Thursday. “Now I feel open-wheel fans have somebody to watch in the Cup Series if they weren’t a fan of NASCAR and maybe a NASCAR fan will show up at a sprint car race.

“Us drivers jumping back and forth from a stock car to a dirt sprint car helps those fans with that transition becoming an open-wheel fan or a stock car fan.”

Coming into this weekend, Kansas Speedway was one of several tracks Abreu had yet to compete. He’s logged considerable time on simulators over the last few weeks preparing for this weekend.

“Getting on a simulator and iRacing as well, and just learning these tracks that we get to,” Abreu said of the benefits of sim racing. “iRacing is really good at what they’ve created with every bump and detail and people in the stands. It’s pretty realistic for me.

“I don’t get too picky and pick these simulators apart. I just am thankful to get the opportunity to race on them and learn the tracks before we get there.”

Which leads to the question of just how Abreu feels he’ll do in Friday night’s race, the first Truck race in over a month.

“I feel like we’re going to have a fast truck,” he said. “It’s the same truck we had at Atlanta and worked all the bugs out there. It seems like I keep positioning myself better and better each race, so I’m looking forward for this weekend.”

The rookie enters this weekend 14th in the Truck points standings. He’s coming off runs of 11th at Atlanta and 10th at Martinsville.

During the lengthy hiatus from Martinsville to Kansas, Abreu tested a truck at Sandusky (Ohio) Speedway, as well as competing in several sprint car races.

While he’s a Rookie of the Year candidate, his sights are set on loftier goals.

“I feel this is probably the stoutest rookie candidates (field) this year with Christopher Bell, William Byron, myself, Ben Rhodes,” Abreu said. “There’s a lot of great drivers competing for that spot.

“But that’s not what we’re really worried about. I’m here to win races.”

Abreu is looking forward to this year’s first-ever Chase format in the Truck Series.

“Everyone’s different,” Abreu said. “Some drivers like it, some drivers don’t. I think it’s great. It gives a rookie a chance to compete in the championship and to compete in the final four at Homestead.

“Hopefully, we can put ourselves in that position, win a race and get to that final round, Homestead fits more of my driving style with how different the grooves are and how high you can drive on the track.”

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