After making 36 starts in the ARCA Menards Series, Toni Breidinger finally made her debut in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series on Saturday, driving for TRICON Garage in the Heart of America 200 at Kansas Speedway.
Though, what happened on Saturday was a long time coming for the 23-year-old driver, who was originally scheduled to debut in the NASCAR Truck Series in 2021, when she joined Young’s Motorsports.
Alas, returning to Venturini Motorsports and Toyota Racing Development mid-season, those plans were thwarted, as Breidinger focused on her efforts in the ARCA Menards Series, where she’s accumulated a total of nine top-10 results.
Fast-forward to this weekend’s race at Kansas and Breidinger was given the opportunity to compete in the No. 1 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro, a fifth entry for TRICON Garage, with sponsorship from Victoria’s Secret, a sponsor of hers since Fall 2022.
In an attempt to get acclimated to the truck, Breidinger completed a 15-lap run during Saturday’s 20-minute practice session, where she clocked in 30th, just behind Truck Series champion Johnny Sauter.
Improving upon her best time in practice by almost a second, Breidinger scored a 24th-place starting spot for Saturday’s 134-lap contest, putting her on the outside of the 12th row, alongside Tyler Ankrum.
Then, the tough part… the race. Despite starting inside the top-25, the Hillsborough, California native quickly slipped down the running order and back outside the top-30 in the race’s opening laps.
As laps clicked off, Breidinger continued to get stronger, running faster laps throughout the first 20-lap run of the race, and getting around a couple of trucks, before the first caution of the afternoon, which provided a bit of excitement for the TRICON Garage driver.
Nick Leitz, driving the No. 20 for Young’s Motorsports, spun at the exit of the second corner, directly in the path of Breidinger, who was somehow able to avoid causing major damage to both her truck and Letiz’s.
From that point in the race forward, things got less nerve-wracking, although strategy calls at the end of the first and second stages gave Breidinger whiplash, in terms of track position, climbing as high as 13th from a strategy call.
As the field dwindled to under 30 trucks, after some accidents prior to the final 50 laps of the event, Breidinger found herself hovering around the top-20, and battling with some heavyweight drivers in the series like Ben Rhodes and Johnny Sauter.
The final run of Saturday’s race, which lasted about 35 laps, was really where Breidinger hit her stride, though, after restarting from 20th. Throughout the run, the driver of the No. 1 Toyota Tundra was able to lay down laps comparable to drivers running inside the top five.
As the run progressed further, Breidinger was able to start picking off trucks one-by-one, getting around drivers like Johnny Sauter, Bret Holmes, Ty Majeski, and Ben Rhodes, as well as Tanner Gray, her TRICON Garage teammate.
In fact, Breidinger was locked in a somewhat heated battle with Gray over the course of the final laps of the race, before breaking loose of the No. 15 Toyota Tundra as the race approached its ending, setting into 15th.
For Breidinger, the 15th-place finish was an impressive showing in her NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series debut, one that made her the highest-finishing female on debut in the NASCAR Truck Series – beating out Hailie Deegan’s 16th-place result at Kansas in 2020.
Driving for @TRICONGarage, @ToniBreidinger put together an impressive 15th-place debut Saturday at @kansasspeedway.
It's the best debut by a female driver in the history of the #NASCAR Truck Series, beating out a 17th-place debut by @HailieDeegan and Johanna Long.#SrigleyStats pic.twitter.com/PSVAAbIe4x
— Joseph Srigley (@joe_srigley) May 7, 2023
As for what lies ahead for Breidinger, she is scheduled to compete in a half-dozen more ARCA Menards Series events for Venturini Motorsports, where she will pilot the No. 55 Toyota Camry.
While Breidinger doesn’t have any additional races confirmed for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, she told members of the media post-race that her team is currently working on securing another race this season.
Though, clicking off finishes like she did on Saturday, especially with national corporations like Victoria’s Secret on board, can only help her case, as she looks to climb the ranks into NASCAR’s National Series on a full-time basis.
Who knows, in a year’s time, we could be looking back on this race as a defining moment in landing Toni Breidinger a full-time seat in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series