Canada's Fitzpatrick headed to NASCAR
By DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency
Will Earnhardt Jr. have a winning season in 2012?
TORONTO - For the past three seasons Canada’s J.R. Fitzpatrick has been knocking on the door of NASCAR’s top three series looking for a full-time job.
Now it appears someone has opened one of those doors for the 23-year-old from Cambridge, Ont.
Fitzpatrick is expected to announce this week he has a full season deal to race in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in the No. 60 for the Stacey Compton-owned Turn One Racing team.
The final terms of the contract are still being locked down but a source close to the talks said Tuesday there are just some minor points to be worked out before Fitzpatrick signs on the dotted line.
The No. 60 Chevrolet Silverado squad was home last year to rising star Cole Whitt, who will campaign this season in the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.
The proposed contract also has a provision for Fitzpatrick to run at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup race — at Watkins Glen — in a Chevrolet prepared by Turn One Racing.
Fitzpatrick, who became the youngest ever Canadian national stock car racing champion when he won the CASCAR Super Series title in 2008 at 18, is also expected to compete in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series this season in the No. 84 Fitzpatrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
As the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season moves inexorably closer to its official start Feb. 26 with the Daytona 500, most eyes — as usual — will be on Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The man who has often carried stock car racing on his slender shoulders since the tragic death of his father in 2001 at that same Daytona International Speedway will be out to prove he can again be a force in NASCAR’s premier series.
It has, after all, been more than three full seasons, or more exactly — 1,410 days — since Earnhardt last drove into Victory Lane at Michigan International Speedway on July 15, 2008.
Last season Earnhardt had a renaissance of sorts making the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship for the first time in three seasons, but he could not get to the next level.
His improvement on the race track under the guidance of crew chief Steve Letarte, however, was an eye opener.
There is no reason to doubt that the momentum Earnhardt and the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team built up in 2011 will carry over to this season.
At a pre-season media session at the team’s headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., Earnhardt sounded both realistic and optimistic about the season ahead.
“We need to get better and we’ve got more to do and we need to run faster. Those are the truths,” he said. “But, personally, I am pretty happy. Personally and professionally, I feel like I’m in a better place than I was. I’m having fun and I really enjoy driving.”
At 37-years-old there won’t be too many more chances for Earnhardt to get a championship but it says here that this could be the year he not only gets back on the top step of the podium, but also challenges for a Sprint Cup title.
FELLOWS NOT FINISHED
Speaking of Earnhardt, when he heard that Ron Fellows was part of a new ownership group at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (formerly Mosport) he was worried that his old pal might be hanging up his race suit.
And when Earnhardt ran into Fellows at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas recently that was the first question he asked the Canadian racing star.
You see Earnhardt just happens to run the JR Motorsports NASCAR Nationwide team that has employed Fellows the past several seasons in the No. 88 and No. 5 Chevrolets.
In fact Fellows brought the team its first — and so far only — road course victory in 2008 when he drove the No. 5 Chevrolet to victory in the rain at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
And he will very likely be back in that seat this season. Fellows said on the weekend at the Canadian Motorsports Expo that he has no intention of getting out from behind the wheel any time soon.
The most interesting piece of news/gossip out of the CME last weekend was that Canada’s Robert Wickens has all but crossed the T’s and dotted the I’s on a full season of racing in Europe for the 2012 season. Wickens, by everybody’s estimation, should be in Formula 1, but that is a debate for another day ... Firestone tires will continue to be the rubber of choice for the IZOD IndyCar Series through to the 2014 season after a deal was reached on Monday by both parties. The tire company will also serve as title sponsor for Firestone Indy Lights through the 2012 season .... Former F1 driver Rubens Barrichello will do another test for KV Racing Technology next week ... Most peculiar driver/sponsor deal in NASCAR this season has to be Kurt Busch getting backing for the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet from the auto dealership group owned by Rick Hendrick for the Daytona 500. Busch made a living out of wrecking Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets over the past several seasons.