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March 22, 2024

Connor Zilisch wows with pole in debut NASCAR Truck Series appearance at COTA

AUSTIN, Texas — Connor Zilisch made the biggest splash he could have imagined in his first laps in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

The 17-year-old Trackhouse Racing prospect stormed to the pole position in Friday’s qualifying session at Circuit of The Americas, driving the No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet to the top spot at 93.012 mph, equating to a time of 2 minutes, 11.983 seconds — nearly three-quarters of a second quicker than second-place starter Corey Heim.

“I’m kind of blown away,” Zilisch said. “Gotta hand it all off to Spire Motorsports and the truck that they brought. We had a really fast Chevy today and made my job really easy. Obviously, I’ve still got to go out there and not make mistakes but honestly, I feel like I could have driven that at 95% and still been able to get the pole.”

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The astounding performance ahead of Saturday’s XPEL 225 (1:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is one in a line of many already in 2024 for the North Carolinian teenager. His year began by scoring a class victory in LMP2 in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway, an incredible feat in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in January. He followed that up one week ago scoring a class win in the 12 Hours of Sebring.

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His road-racing prowess made him a highly-touted prospect long before this year, including a runner-up finish in his ARCA Menard’s Series debut at Watkins Glen International last August. But to post his first laps in a stock truck Friday at COTA — and be significantly faster than series regulars — speaks to the ‘wow’ factor Zilisch has brought so far.

“It’s definitely not easy, right?” Zilisch said. “I’ve run so many different series and cars but honestly, I think that’s only making me a better race car driver, right? We show up here with 15 minutes of practice and not a lot of time, but when I’m going to the truck it’s all new to me. But it’s really been a three-month process preparing myself for this race with everyone back at Chevrolet, Josh Wise, Scott Speed. We’ve had this circled on the calendar for a long time, so yeah, it feels really good to have this starting off well. We got a good starting spot tomorrow, but there’s still a long way to go.”

With such immediate performance comes heightened expectations, both internally and externally. At age 17, Zilisch has already sought professional help to manage the nerves that come with it.

“That’s one thing I struggled with and I actually had to go to a sports psychologist to talk about it,” Zilisch said, “because I get so nervous and amped up before races that I go out there and just not do my job and completely mess up. So that’s one thing that I’ve really had to work on the last two years is just not getting too amped up in a situation where I may have confidence or whether or not I don’t have confidence and I’m just nervous. So that’s a lot when you look at race car drivers. People might not see that, but the mental aspect of it is way bigger than people think. And I’m thankful to have very, very good people around me that made it easy to kind of stay calm.”

Zilisch, who signed a developmental deal with Trackhouse Racing in January, will continue to make select starts for Spire Motorsports through the 2024 campaign. He will also make his Xfinity Series debut later this season with JR Motorsports in the No. 88 Chevrolet.