BOWMANVILLE - There are hundreds of very good reasons to be at Mosport International Speedway’s half-mile oval on Saturday for the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series Dickies 200.
It is enough that more than two dozen or so of Canada’s best stock car racers will be on the track in what has traditionally been the most exciting short track race of the season, but Saturday will also be ground zero of the battle for the national championship.
And what a battle that is turning out to be.
In one corner there is young, brash J.R. Fitzpatrick driving the No. 84 Fitzpatrick Motorsports Schick Chevrolet and in the other corner is tough-as-nails veteran D.J. Kennington, driving the No. 17 DJK Racing Castrol Dodge.
Going into Saturday night’s race, Fitzpatrick holds an ever-so-slim lead of a single point — 1,339 to 1,338 — in the CTS championship that has only three races left after Mosport.
For the 22-year-old Fitzpatrick, of Cambridge, Ont., 2010 has been a breakout year in his racing career after signing a contract with JR Motorsports, co-owned by NASCAR Sprint Cup superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, to race a part-time schedule in the team’s No. 7 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
That would be the same Rick Hendrick who employs four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champions Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, as well as the aforementioned Earnhardt and Mark Martin.
If you wanted to get noticed in the world’s top stock car racing series a good place to start would be hanging around the likes of Hendrick and Earnhardt.
Kennington, on the other hand, has sort of been there, done that.
Last season the 33-year-old drove a full time NASCAR Nationwide schedule in the No. 81 Dodge out of the MacDonald Motorsports garage while still making every NASCAR Canadian Tire stop as well in 2009.
But Kennington decided before the 2010 season started that he wanted a NASCAR Canadian TIre Series championship on his resume and to get it he would have to temporarily give up his other dream of racing in the Sprint Cup series in the U.S.
“I realized that in order to win the (Canadian Tire) championship it would take a full time commitment to the series,” Kennington said earlier this season.
That kind of commitment has obviously worked for the St. Thomas, Ont., native.
He went out and won the very first race of the season at Delaware Speedway, near London, Ont., with — you guessed it — Fitzpatrick finishing second.
Since then Kennington added two other wins — at St. Eustache and Saskatoon — along with a third-place finish at the Honda Indy Toronto Jumpstart 100 and a fourth place at the Grand Prix of Trois Rivieres a week ago.
Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, hasn’t exactly been sitting on the sidelines. He has two wins — at Mosport’s road course in the Vortex Brake Pads 200 and at the Honda Indy Edmonton Canadian Tire 100 — to go with his second place at Delaware and a third-place finish at Trois Rivieres.
It would be the first NASCAR championship for both should they win this season, although Fitzpatrick does have a national championship title after winning the former CASCAR Super Series — the precursor to the Canadian Tire Series — in 2007.
In fact — at just 18 years-old at the time — Fitzpatrick became the youngest driver in history to win a major Canadian driving championship.
Fitzpatrick and Kennington, of course, aren’t the only reasons to be at Mosport Saturday.
Don Thomson Jr. — himself a five-time CASCAR champion — would like nothing better than to inch closer to Kennington and his teammate Fitzpatrick.
Thomson has seven top 10 finishes in eight races this season driving the No. 4 Fitzpatrick Home Hardware Chevrolet and sits 193 points behind his teammate.
Also in the hunt are 2008 series champion Scott Steckly in the No. 22 Canadian Tire Dodge with perennial contender Kerry Micks in fourth in the No. 02 Dickies/Digital Images Ford.