NCATS gets noticed

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

When Andrew Ranger and J.R. Fitzpatrick battled door-to-door for victory in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series at the first Rexall Edmonton Indy, it cemented the home-grown stock car loop as the most competitive four-wheel racing in the land.

And when the two repeated the duel at Mosport International Raceway near Toronto, and later, when Ranger and Kerry Micks bumped and banged on the final lap at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, it made the series truly national.

Throw in a dominating series championship winning performance last season by Scott Steckly in the No. 22 Dodge and you have a solid foundation to make race fans on both sides of the border stand up and take notice.

And take notice they did.

This season, the championship team of Kevin Harvick Incorporated -- winner of the 2008 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and top-10 finishers in the NASCAR Nationwide Series -- announced plans to send their top development driver Cale Gale to the Canadian series for seasoning.

Going into this week's High Octane Weekend at Mosport's 4-km road course, Steckly, Ranger, Micks and 20 other drivers already are locked into a tight race for top spot after the first two rounds.

D.J. Kennington, who pilots the No. 81 Dodge in the Nationwide series, will again do double duty this season running a full Canadian Tire series schedule in the No. 17 Castrol Dodge.

Kennington won last week at Delaware Speedway, near London, Ont., to join Dave Whitlock as 2009 race winners.

The standings going into Mosport show Ron Beauchamp out front with 345 points, Whitlock with 336 and Micks third at 335.

Steckly and Kennington round out the top five at 335 and 305 points respectively.

Team tension

A post-race comment by Andretti Green Racing's Marco Andretti after the IndyCar series race at Texas Motor Speedway last week appears to have rekindled hard feelings between him and teammate Danica Patrick.

Late in the Bombardier 550K event, Andretti was held up by Patrick for fifth spot and by the time he got around her and Ganassi Racing's Dario Franchitti for fourth place he had run out of laps to catch winner Scott Dixon.

A steamed Andretti let fly at Patrick afterward.

"The toughest people out there (to pass) are my teammates, and I don't get that," Andretti said. "I think three of the four of us get what the camaraderie of Andretti Green Racing is."

Patrick said she thought her actions were "fair and square."

Team co-owner (and Marco's dad) Michael Andretti will have to wear a couple of hats to fix this up before it spreads to the rest of AGR's four-team effort.

Maxwell's back

Scott Maxwell is back behind the wheel of a Ford Mustang after looking as though he might not race for the Blue Oval squad this season.

But officials from Ford's Miller Mustang Challenge series -- that stops at Mosport this week -- announced that the veteran Maxwell will take over from Joe Foster, who is in Le Mans for the 24 Hours race.

The list of Maxwell's accomplishments for Ford include wins at the 24 Hours of Daytona, the American Le Mans Series and, last year, a championship in the Grand Am KONI Challenge, driving a Mustang FR500C.

Ford's decision to bring back Maxwell for Mosport wasn't a hard one considering his experience on the road course there.

"It is not a track where you can just go out and get up to speed immediately and be right on the limit," Maxwell said. "You have to treat it with respect because it can bite you if not."

Maxwell also will be acting as an unofficial driver coach for the other drivers in the Miller Series.

"I've watched the Mustang Challenge races and I know there are a lot of really good drivers in the series and I'm really looking forward to meeting more of the guys and working with them this weekend," he said. "I was out at Miller (Motorsports Park) earlier this year and I've driven these cars so I know what the guys will be experiencing behind the wheel. The cars are really forgiving, and that's very important at a place like Mosport."

Canadian corner

Fitzpatrick will get his second start of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in the No. 4 Kevin Harvick Incorporated Chevrolet Silverado at Michigan International Speedway. Fitzpatrick, of Cambridge, Ont., hopes to make a mark in Saturday's Michigan 200.

Quote of the week

"I thought my car was really good. It wasn't quite as good as I thought." -- Greg Biffle after finishing 11th at the Pocono 500 in the No. 16 Ford.

Finish lines

A pair of young Canadians, Ashley McCalmont, of Oakville and Jamie Holtom, of Ottawa, finished third at the most recent KONI Challenge race at Watkins Glen. With the podium finish, Holtom and McCalmont have now moved into second place in the standings ... Michael Waltrip Racing has announced that Patrick Carpentier will drive the No. 55 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway on June 21 and at Watkins Glen on Aug. 9.

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FAST FACTS AT MICHIGAN

Youngest Pole Winner: Jeff Gordon (June 18, 1995 -- 23 years, 10 months, 14 days)

Oldest Pole Winner: Dale Jarrett (June 16, 2002 -- 45 years, 6 months, 21 days)

Youngest Race Winner: Kurt Busch (June 15, 2003 -- 24 years, 10 months, 11 days)

Oldest Race Winner: Harry Gant (Aug. 16, 1992 -- 52 years, 7 months, 6 days)


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