It’s taken D.J. Kennington 17 years to reach this position and now the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series championship is his to lose.
The St. Thomas driver regained the points lead Saturday winning the Komatsu 300 at Riverside Speedway near Antigonish, N.S.
With his fifth win of the 13-race season, he will take a 40-point lead over J.R. Fitzpatrick of Cambridge into the final race Saturday night at Kawartha Speedway, near Peterborough.
Kennington trailed Fitzpatrick by 21 points going to Riverside. Fitzpatrick suffered clutch failure after 183 laps and finished 13th.
“This has been a long time coming, but it certainly isn’t over yet,” Kennington said. His rookie season in the old CASCAR Super Series was 1994. The series was taken over by NASCAR in 2007.
He’s had numerous second-place finishes in the championship but never won the big prize.
“I feel like the Mark Martin of Canada,” he said in reference to the NASCAR veteran who’s finished second in the Sprint Cup Series five times. “This sure is a great position to be in. I’ve never been in this position going into the last race. We’ve always been second or third and trying to play catch-up.”
Saturday was his fifth win on an oval this season and a record for the NCATS. Kawartha is also an oval and Kennington has always found success on that track.
“Touch wood. It’s a fast track, smooth and lots of room to race and that’s what I like about it.”
But he’d never been able to say the same about Riverside, until now.
“That track has been tough on us the last couple of years, so we knew we had to be on our game,” which he was, posting the second quickest qualifying run behind Scott Steckly of Milverton.
Kennington was in the hunt all race, holding the lead twice, before finally going to the outside to pass Steckly for good on Lap 215.
Kennington then held off numerous challenges by the 2008 series champion over the last 85 laps and eventually claimed the win by almost five seconds over Steckly. Kennington led a race-high 144 laps.
“The Castrol Edge Dodge was so strong and for that I have to thank my crew (headed by 23-year-old Dave White) and also my dad (Doug) for the incredible motor under the hood.
“The horsepower this year has been fabulous. Nobody knows what dad puts into this. He’s in the shop from five in the morning to eight at night to make sure everything is right for me. Without that dedication, I couldn’t do it.
“And Dave has been with me five years now and the crew has been phenomenal all year. We’ve won races because of them. What we’ve done is because of all the people we have down there.
“But I just can’t say enough about my dad. He’s been such a big part of everything I’ve done in racing, and Castrol, too. They’ve stuck with me the whole time, right from the get-go.” The sponsorship, which started in ’94 is the longest in Canadian motorsports.
Kennington opened the season June 5 with a win at Delaware Speedway, then followed with victories at St. Eustache, Saskatoon, Barrie and now Antigonish.
The game plan for Kawartha is simple: “We’re not going to change a thing. We’ll just go out there and try to win the race and do what we normally do. If you start sitting back and trying to protect a (points) lead, that’s when you start getting yourself in trouble.”