DJ Kennington moved into the driver's seat for the 2010 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 championship with a win Saturday in the Komatsu 300 presented by Wilson Equipment at Riverside International Speedway.
Kennington, who entered the race weekend trailing JR Fitzpatrick by just 21 points, used lapped traffic to take the lead for the final time from Scott Steckly on Lap 215 and withstood Steckly's challenge on an ensuing restart to pick up the win. The victory, combined with Fitzpatrick's 13th-place finish gives Kennington the points lead by 40 heading into the final race of the season next weekend.
On the surface a 40-point lead sounds huge considering the differential between Kennington and Fitzpatrick has been greater than that only twice all season long – Kennington led by 41 points following the Toronto event in July and Fitzpatrick left Montreal with a 51-point advantage in late August. Also consider that there was a 61-point swing in this event alone. With this change at the top, the two have swapped the points lead six times since Kennington won the season opener at Delaware (Ont.) Speedway on June 5.
Kennington, out of St. Thomas, Ont., led three times for a race-high 144 laps. Fitzpatrick led for 39 laps before being sidelined by clutch issues. While leading the race, Fitzpatrick lost power on the backstretch and coasted back around the track coming to a stop at the entrance of pit road which handed the race lead to Kennington. However, there were no cheers coming from the inside of Kennington’s Castrol Edge-sponsored Dodge due in part to their friendship, but more from empathy.
“I hate it that their car broke,” said Kennington. “They had a great car today and they’ve worked hard. I’ve been there before with things going wrong at the end of the season. It’s a tough pill to swallow. Heck, it could be me next week.”
It was Kennington’s fifth win of the season and the ninth of his series career. The five wins is a series record for oval track wins in a season and is just one behind Andrew Ranger’s record six overall wins established last season.
“I have to thank my crew for this one. The car really wasn’t very good in practice. It was bottoming out on the track and they got it fixed for qualifying,” Kennington said. “I didn’t have a single problem with in the race. In fact, in the middle groove, the car was a rocket ship.”
It proved to be a bittersweet day for Steckly, who hails from Milverton, Ont. After having the fastest car on the track for the morning practice session and establishing a new track record in qualifying and earning his first pole position of the 2010 season, he just didn’t have enough for Kennington at the end of the race.
“We had the fastest car in practice, the fastest car in qualifying and we don’t get the win,” said Steckly. “That’s kind of how our year has gone. We do have eight finishes in the top four, so it’s not all that bad for the Canadian Tire Dodge.”
Hamilton, Ontario’s Don Thomson Jr. may be hottest driver in the series. With a third-place effort here he now has eight top-five finishes in his last 10 starts.
“The Home Hardware Chevy was tight from the time we took it out of the trailer,” said Thomson. “We changed a bunch of things in practice and got it a little better, but even in qualifying and the race, it was still tight. So, it was a good effort for us to finish on the podium.”
Ron Beauchamp Jr. and Jason Hathaway rounded out the top five.
Kerry Micks was sixth, followed by Anthony Simone, Mark Dilley, Jeff Lapcevich and Joey McColm.
The race was slowed due to caution seven times for 57 laps and the race lead changed hands 15 times among six drivers.
For the contingency awards, Kennington collected the top spot in the Dodge/Mopar Fast Five competition and he collected the Mahle Clevite Engine Builder of the Race points to earn that award. Steckly earned the Mobil 1 Command Performance Driver of the race award. Beauchamp by picking up six positions from where he started the race picked up the Coca-Cola Move of the Race award. Micks bounced back from a subpar performance in his last time out and scored the Autolite Spark Plugs Time To Change Your Position award. Lapcevich, meanwhile, received a free pass early on in the race but recovered to finish ninth which earned him the Vtech Free Pass award.
The Komatsu 300 presented by Wilson Equipment will be telecast by TSN on Sept. 25 at 2 p.m. ET
The NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 will crown a new champion on Saturday, Sept. 25 in the Kawartha 250, the 2010 season finale at Kawartha Speedway in Fraserville, Ont.