Race Weekend Central

Connor Zilisch Overcomes Early Miscues, Penalties to Finish 4th in Truck Debut

AUSTIN, Texas — Connor Zilisch had one of the more chaotic races for a driver in their first career NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series start.

The 17-year-old Trackhouse Racing-affiliated driver had impressed on the road courses in the ARCA Menards Series, IMSA, Trans-Am and Mazda MX-5 Cup in his young career, and this weekend was his first opportunity to prove that road course talent in the Truck Series at Circuit of the Americas.

He came out swinging early, qualifying on the pole by setting a new track record with a speed of 93.012 mph.

With that in mind, you might think that he would be fighting at the front of the field for the majority of the race. But starting on the first turn of the race, he locked the brakes of his No. 7 and fell down the order outside the top 30.

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“I had two trucks inside/outside of me, and I kind of lost my references, and I kind of went off where the [No.] 17 was braking, and he went too deep,” Zilisch said post-race. “So then, that caused me to go too deep. Rookie mistakes that shouldn’t have been made, but I learned a lot and moved on and get better for the next one.”

To add insult to injury, Zilisch experienced a problem with the sway bar that kept him on pit road, putting the No. 7 a lap down, but he was able to stay in the free pass position by the end of stage one.

To make the day increasingly difficult, Zilisch had to deal with a spin while battling in the middle of the pack, as well as two pass-through penalties, the final one coming moments before a late-race caution for Lawless Alan stalling and parking on the track. If the caution were to fly sooner, Zilisch would have had to serve the penalty by heading to the rear of the field instead of passing through and falling to only two spots to sixth.

“I had two pass throughs,” Zilisch said. “I got spun out one time. I had way too many mistakes.”

Zilisch’s final challenge was to drive back to the front on fresh tires after a strategy call to pit with three laps to go in regulation. He was on track for a top-10 finish until Marco Andretti strangely lost the rear-end housing on his No. 04 Chevrolet.

Zilisch took advantage of the extra restart, cutting his way back to a fourth-place finish.

“The end result fourth shows how fast our truck was with the mistakes that I made,” Zilisch said. “It’s really frustrating that I couldn’t have a better run, but honestly, I’m sure I’ll have more races in this truck, and I already have two more guaranteed at the end of the year. So still a lot of time, and I still have a lot to learn, but it feels good to have speed and feel like I belong here.”

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After the checkered flag flew, Ross Chastain said a few words to Zilisch about his confidence after his performance and talked about his mentorship as a Trackhouse teammate.

“He just told me to keep your head up,” Zilisch said. “He’s a really good guy, and he’s helped me a lot getting to this point. I’m sure he’ll continue to be a good teammate for me. It’s really cool to have him on my side and have him supporting me.”

It took mental fortitude from Zilisch to battle the problems that seemed to plague his car throughout the day.

“I went back out after I got the tires after I cut the tire down, and I was seven to eight tenths faster.” Zilisch said. “It’s a long race, and as frustrating as it may have been to lose the lead that early, I knew I wasn’t out of it. It’s just the fact that I was so fast. If I was a little slower, it would have been harder, but I had so much speed. That’s kind of what allowed me to continue to push and not give up.”

About the author

Wyatt Watson has been an avid fan of NASCAR since 2007 at the age of 8. He joined Frontstretch in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter.

Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime

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