Mission’s not impossible for Pagenaud in new Acura clip (VIDEO; UPDATED)

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As my colleague Tony DiZinno noted Tuesday morning, Honda-powered IndyCar Series driver Simon Pagenaud has been on an upward trajectory since returning to American open-wheel racing in 2012.

The Frenchman has grown from IndyCar rookie of the year to a legitimate championship threat that can contend just about anywhere on the schedule.

Now, we can add “TV star” to his list of accomplishments. OK, that may be a bit of a stretch. But IndyCar faithful should get a kick out of Acura’s latest ad for its 2015 TLX (see above), in which Pagenaud becomes what I’m assuming to be a lead-footed spy with a secret mission: Put the new car through its paces in a downtown metropolis.

Of course, zipping through city streets is no problem for him. After all, Pagenaud’s first two career IndyCar Series wins came last year on the street courses at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

You can catch him and the rest of the IndyCar drivers and teams open their 2014 season on March 30th from St. Petersburg, Florida. NBCSN will then restart its coverage of the series at the next race, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, on April 13th.

UPDATE, 11:30 a.m., Wednesday: TDZ taking over from Chris here. As part of my chat with Pagenaud earlier this week, we discussed the video in detail and what it meant for him to be part of the acting process.

“I’ve been involved with Acura almost my whole career, so we’ve always tried to keep a close link,” Pagenaud said. “My image, the message I try to send across, they seem to like it. So they thought it cool to use it for advertising in the new car, in more of an actor kind of role. So I did it … and it was certainly completely different than what I’m used to.”

Pagenaud went through direction and, as a rare HPD/Acura driver actually involved in an ad for the production car, was placed in a unique situation. Acting, to Pagenaud, is nowhere near as easy as it can come across.

“We did a quick briefing on what we were trying to do led by the director of the filming,” Pagenaud explained. “They explained to me what was expected from the set, and tried to reproduce it on camera. It was exciting, and now I have a whole different respect for acting! It takes a lot of focus for hours.”

Pagenaud did compare the film staff to the nucleus of the race team –  a debrief on how to assess the performance was part of the process.

“That was an interesting one … Acura did it for this commercial, and was so impressed,” he said. There were about 50 people in the filming crew, all specializing on the task. They’re all very professional; it’s a lot like how we go about racing.”

Theriault clinches ARCA title before finale at Kansas

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) There is no long, convoluted story about how Austin Theriault came to Ken Schrader Racing, forging a team that so dominated the ARCA Series that it captured the title simply by showing up for the finale.

“We both wanted something to do,” the folksy Schrader said with a smile and shrug before Friday night’s race at Kansas Speedway. “He didn’t have a car to drive and I didn’t have a driver.”

So, they solved each other’s problem.

Theriault hopped into the seat and proceeded to win seven times over the first 19 races, building such a lead on his nearest challenger that he sewed up the title at Kentucky. And that made for a rather enjoyable weekend at Kansas, where all the pressure was off their team.

Along the way, Theriault became the first driver to win at a superspeedway, short track, dirt track and road event in the same season, and he swept the superspeedway and short-track challenges.

If there was something to win, he won it.

“I hoped we’d have a shot at it and it’s proved out this year that we’ve really exceeded anybody’s expectations,” Theriault said. “We had some things to work on early. We kind of dusted off a bit, went back to work. We had some time between Daytona and the mile-and-a-halfs that came up later in the season, and we realized where we were strong and where we had to work.

“But in the end it came back to pure dedication, I think,” he explained. “The amount of time it took behind the scenes to make this happen.”

The 23-year-old driver from Fort Kent, Maine, knows something about dedication. He appeared to be on racing’s fast track, scoring a Truck Series ride a few years ago for Brad Keselowski, when a terrifying crash at Las Vegas left him with a broken back and sitting on the sidelines.

The best ride he could find last year was in the K&N Pro Series.

It was at a trade show in Indianapolis last December that Theriault ran into Schrader, who was busy putting together a team for this season. They had dinner a couple nights later and, Schrader said, it was his wife Ann who came away impressed by the yes-sir, no-sir driver.

“My wife doesn’t go to all the races,” Schrader said. “After we talked she said, `I like that guy. How good is he?’ She doesn’t know. I knew he was racing well in Keselowski’s truck, had an unfortunate wreck, had to sit out a bit. I told her, `That’s somebody who could make us very happy next year.”‘

Theriault delivered on that promise.

They weren’t the only ones happy Friday, either. Zane Smith earned his second pole of the season, beating teammate Sheldon Creed to earn the top spot for the Kansas ARCA 150, while 20-year-old Natalie Decker announced a full-time ride with Venturini Motorsports next season.

“This is obviously a big step in my career,” said Decker, who made six starts as a rookie this season. “I’m confident and ready for this next move. After tonight my focus shifts to next season. We’ll be ready to go at Daytona.”