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Canadian teen Raphael Lessard tops Truck practice at Dover in KBM audition

Raphael Lessard will make his second of three Gander Outdoors NASCAR Truck Series starts for Kyle Busch Motorsports on Friday at Dover International Speedway. Photo courtesy of Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Seventeen-year-old Raphael Lessard knew his first laps around Dover International Speedway, famously known as the Monster Mile, would be exhilarating.

But as he rocketed into Turn 1 on Lap 1 in Thursday’s Gander Outdoors NASCAR Truck Series opening practice, his adrenaline-hiked mind gasped.

“[Dang], am I really going to be able to hold it wide open getting to that hump on entry?” Lessard asked himself. “I told myself, ‘I’m just going to give it a try.’”

So, Lessard boomed it through Turns 1 and 2, and exited confident in the aforementioned approach. When the first session ended, it was Lessard at the top of the speed charts — his time of 23.226 (154.999 MPH) pacing the first practice session.

Prior to Thursday, the Quebec native had never driven on an oval larger than 0.75 miles. The Monster Mile imprinted a strong first impression on the teenager making his second Truck Series start in the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 46 entry.

“It’s awesome, man,” Lessard said. “It’s super fast. You go out there and you’re like, ‘Whoa, this feels like a roller coaster.’”

Lessard, who doesn’t turn 18 until July 5, finished 14th and on the lead lap in his Truck Series debut at Martinsville in March.

Friday will mark Lessard’s second of three races for KBM this season, and another chance for the teenager to manifest his raw talent in NASCAR’s third-tier division.

“With a truck like that, I have speed … but I need to keep that speed up all race long,” Lessard said. “I need to learn a little bit more to be good at the end of the race in the trucks, but I have a good group of people.”

Lessard is an interesting prospect. In 2016, as a slender 14-year-old, he won the CARS Super Late Model Tour championship with four wins and eight top fives in 10 races. Shortly after, Kyle Busch took the Canadian under his wing.

Now, in a time where opportunities are scarce and hard to come by, the 17-year-old has to string together solid runs at Dover this Friday and Bristol in the fall if he wants to stick around.

The goods are certainly in place. KBM has won 33 of the last 97 races and two of the past four Truck Series championships.

Michael Shelton is Lessard’s crew chief, the man who guided James Buescher to the 2012 Truck Series championship. And his teammates are two of the finest prospects in racing: Todd Gilliland and Harrison Burton.

“I feel good about our qualifying stuff [for Dover],” Lessard said. “Our race stuff, it could get better. But we’ll see.”

Lessard has one start each in the K&N Pro Series East and ARCA Menards Series this season: a ninth at Bristol and an eighth at Five Flags Speedway in Florida where he led 83 of the 200 laps.

Friday will be Lessard’s fourth overall race of 2019, as he tries to bolster his claim for more set team and follow in the footsteps of Bubba Wallace, Erik Jones, Christopher Bell, and William Byron.

“My dream is to race [a] car every day,” Lessard said. “That would be a dream come true. We’re working hard at it. I have great partners. We always need more. Like next year, it would be awesome to get a full-time ride at Kyle Busch Motorsports. I’m just going to have to work really hard and try to perform as well as I can in [these] two [remaining] truck races.”

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