The 2010 race season was special for DJ Kennington. He collected five wins, five poles and, most importantly, the championship he coveted for so long. But, at long last, the 2011 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series season is at hand and everyone is back at zero.
"It's as wide open as it has ever been," said Kennington. "This series is full of veterans who all know how to win."
Untimely circumstances haunted Kennington in several near misses for the championship in both CASCAR and in Canada's NASCAR era beginning in 2007. However, last season everything went in favor of the driver out of St. Thomas, Ont. He steered clear of trouble on the track and was able to avoid serious mechanical malfunctions all season long.
"Last year was a good one for us, no doubt," he said. "Just about everything we did turned out well and all of the equipment performed great. Will it be that way in 2011? I don't know, but we're sure going to try."
With that series title in hand, the 33-year-old Kennington moves from hunter to the hunted, but he is approaching the year just as he has since his first year behind the wheel of a stock car at 16 years of age. Always in the mix for the championship, he doesn't see a need to make changes.
"We did the same things last year that we had always done," Kennington said. "Everything went our way, so we'll just keep on doing what we do and hope it turns out for the best."
The key, according to Kennington and the many drivers before him who won titles in a short season, is to get out of the box quickly and have success early in the year. With a 12-race schedule, the margin for error is slim and an early triumph gets the team in an upbeat mood after the long offseason.
"Last year, we got that win at Delaware (Speedway) right out of the gate," he said. "Everybody on the team was feeling good and we immediately put pressure on all the other teams and forced them to play catch up."
In addition to making no changes to their preparation, the No. 17 Castrol Edge Dodge will have the same look it had in 2010 aside from the new Dodge Challenger nose in play this season in the Canadian Tire Series.
"The consistency we've had with Castrol Canada over the years is amazing," Kennington said. "They're phenomenal. I don't know where I'd be without them. It's an honor being associated with them for the past 17 seasons."
"I like the new look of the Dodge Challenger this year. I think the fans will like it, too. It looks like the ones seen on the street and not some hybrid race car body type. I am anxious to see how it handles on the road courses where we carry more straight-line speed than on the ovals," he stated.
Kicking off the 2011 season at Mosport Speedway, near Bowmanville, Ont., is a bit of a twist for the series,
but one of no consequence for Kennington. Until this season, the customary visit to the half-mile oval at Mosport had come in mid to late August. Also, Mosport and Motoplex Speedway in Vernon, B.C., are the only two oval tracks on the 2011 schedule at which Kennington has not visited Victory Lane. His career-best finish at Mosport is third accomplished in the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Last season, he finished in the sixth position after starting from the pole.
"It's probably good that they moved that date since we've struggled with the weather the last few years there," said Kennington. "Mosport is a tricky track, though. It's fairly flat and both ends are different. It's almost impossible to get the car to handle well at both ends, so it's a give and take deal to be competitive there."
Having not turned a meaningful lap in his Canadian Tire Series car since last Sept. 25, Kennington is just happy to get back to racing. He has competed, however, in a pair of NASCAR K&N Pro Series events since hoisting the Canadian Tire Series' championship trophy at Kawartha Speedway last September. Kennington finished second in the prestigious NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale (Calif.) in January and 10th in the K&N Pro Series West season opener at Phoenix (Ariz.) International Raceway in February.
"It's time to get going - past time, really," Kennington said. "Every other series has been at it for a while. Now, it's time for us to get started here in Canada."
Keystone Light Pole ... In 2011, Keystone Light is the sponsor for the Canadian Tire Series pole award. Keystone Light will pay the pole winner at each series event a special bonus of $1,500 CAD. In previous visits to Mosport Speedway, Fitzpatrick, Kennington and Thomson have earned the pole position. Qualifying in 2008 was cancelled due to rain.
New Look ... After several seasons racing out of the Fitzpatrick Motorsports' stable, Thomson over the offseason made the move to Team 3 Red/Ed Hakonson Racing and become a teammate to Jason Hathaway. In the process, the long-time Chevy driver is making the switch to Dodge.
More Converts ... Also switching to the Dodge chassis in 2011 is Jeff Lapcevich and Jason White. Lapcevich also brought in veteran crew chief Tim Ellas while White turned the preparation of his cars over to DJK Racing.
Sharing Time ... Veteran driver Pete Vanderwyst and 18-year-old Noel Dowler, son of former CASCAR champion Kevin Dowler, will share time behind the wheel of the No. 5 EMCO Dodge. Initially, Vanderwyst will handle the oval tracks with the youngster tackling the road courses putting Vanderwyst at the helm for the Dickies 200.
Last Year's Event
Don Thomson Jr. picked up his only win of the 2010 season that kicked off a streak of five consecutive top-five finishes to close out the season. It was Thomson's second Canadian Tire Series victory on the Mosport oval having won there in 2007.He led a race-high 103 laps en route to the win. JR Fitzpatrick crossed the line .378 seconds behind to collect the runner-up finish. Kerry Micks finished third while Ron Beauchamp Jr. and Pete Shepherd III completed the top five. Eventual series champion DJ Kennington started on the pole and finished in sixth place.
Up Next: Circuit ICAR
The NASCAR Canadian Tire Series makes the first of three trips to Quebec this season for its inaugural event at Circuit ICAR in located on the grounds of the Montreal-Mirabel International Airport, 24 miles northwest of downtown Montreal. The Grand Prix ICAR Mirabel is slated for Sunday, June 5 with qualifying the day before on Saturday. This year's Indianapolis 500 polesitter Alex Tagliani is expected to be in the field making his 14th NASCAR Canadian Tire Series career start.