FRASERVILLE, Ont. — D.J. Kennington looked at the calendar at the start of he 2010 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series season and circled Sept. 25.
That marked the final race for the stock car racing championship of all of Canada.
It also was the day before his dad Doug's birthday.
Saturday at Kawartha Speedway, Kennington got to give his dad the best birthday present ever — a championship for the No. 17 Castrol Edge Dodge team.
Kennington — who has twice finished second in the race for the national championship — went into the Kawartha 250 with a razor-thin 40-point lead over J.R. Fitzpatrick and the No. 82 Schick Chevrolet.
All he needed was a sixth-place finish to clinch the championship and he finished two better — fourth behind race winner Peter Shepherd.
But Kennington had taken control of the final early, winning the pole position, and setting the pace for the first 80 laps at Kawartha's 3/8ths-mile oval.
The team had decided on a quick three-pit stop strategy, and that put Kennington back to 16th position at one point but he knew that Fitzpatrick would have to stop twice more.
It was a gamble that paid off for the 33-year-old native of St. Thomas, Ont.
The only scare was a tire going down but a fortunate yellow allowed him to pit to fix the problem.
A clearly emotional Kennington spoke of his early years in racing as laying the foundation for Saturday's triumph.
"I was five years old when my dad first took me Go Kart racing and all I know is that I loved every minute of it," he said. "I just caught that bug. And I haven't been able to get away from it no matter what. To this day, if it has four wheels on it I want to race it."
For Kennington, however, Saturday's title run was a long time coming.
His first start in the then CASCAR Super Series came a day after he got his licence at the ripe old age of 16.
"I remember that I got my driver's licence on a Thursday and on that Friday I was racing at Delaware Speedway (near London, Ont.)," he said. "I won my first heat race and I thought, ÔWow, this is going to be easy.' "
Well, it would be two long years before Kennington would next taste victory.
"Now after 17 years of trying, I've finally won the biggest prize of all," Kennington said.
Shepherd's win was the first NASCAR win of his career, with Kerry Micks second and Fitzpatrick third.
Fitzpatrick, who was battling Micks on the final lap and ended up spinning across the finish line, tried to get at the veteran driver of the No. 02 Dickies/Digital Imaging Ford, but was separated by officials.
The 22-year-old from Cambridge. Ont., was visibly upset, not only at losing his chance to win Saturday but with a season that held such promise.
"I wouldn't say we did this wrong or that wrong," he said. "Overall, when I look back I think this team really had a phenomenal season."
Where the damage was done, however, was a bad finish at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal and a failed clutch last week at Riverside Speedway in Nova Scotia, where he was the race leader before falling back to finish 13th.
"We just had a lot of bad luck," he said
Both Kennington and Fitzpatrick said they would be back next season, Kennington to defend his championship and Fitzpatrick to wrest it away.
"Absolutely I'll be back next season," Kennington said. "This is what I do. I absolutely love racing. And being able to make a living doing what you love is just a dream come true."