The build up to J.R. Fitzpatrick’s 2012 racing season was, by his own admission, probably more hyperbole than reality.
The 24-year-old from Cambridge, Ont., had planned on running the entire 22-race NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in the U.S. driving the No. 60 Turn One Chevrolet Silverado.
His management team even put out a media release saying just that, but it turns out all the Ts had not been crossed on that contract.
Fitzpatrick did run at Daytona in February where he was caught up in some one else’s wreck and at Martinsville where he had a decent Top 20 finish.
Unfortunately promised sponsorship deals never materialized and Fitzpatrick had to adjust his expectations. Now, while he still hopes to get some truck races in, he will put all his efforts into winning a second national stock car racing championship in Canada this season.
And that all starts Sunday in the Vortex Brake Pads 200 that heads up the Victoria Day SpeedFest Weekend at the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.
Let’s face it, Fitzpatrick hasn’t lost the will or the ability to win.
Turn One Racing certainly hasn’t given up on his talents.
“I still have a very good relationship with the team,” he said Saturday. “We just had some management problems that took some time to solve.”
Fitzpatrick is now concentrating on getting his No. 84 Equipment Express Chevrolet to Victory Lane in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series.
He has enlisted the help of an old mentor and five-time champion Don Thomson Jr. to be crew chief for his efforts in the 12-race loop.
Thomson was the guy who built and maintained the No. 84 Chevrolet when Fitzpatrick became the youngest CASCAR champion in history at just 18, back in 2006.
“It is so great having Donnie back with the team,” Fitzpatrick said. “We want to show fans that we can win a NASCAR Canadian Tire championship in Canada to go with Donnie’s five and my one CASCAR championship.”
Fitzpatrick is also looking forward to racing, again, against fierce rival Andrew Ranger in the No. 27 Dodge, who is back in Canada after two seasons down south.
The pair staged some classic battles at the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park track in the past.
“There are some great drivers in this series, Andrew being one of them,” Fitzpatrick said.
For this weekend Fitzpatrick wants to start the season on a high note.
On Saturday he qualified the No. 84 Chevrolet second on the speed chart with a lap of one minute, 24.092 seconds and will start on the outside of the front row beside reigning champion Scott Steckly — who ran a 1:23.922 in the No. 22 Dodge — when the green flag drops on Sunday.
“We were tight all day trying to find the right combination for the race (on Sunday),” he said. “We have never been real good in qualifying here but today we managed a reall good lap.”
The competition will be tough for Fitzpatrick.
In years gone by the top stock car teams in this country pretty much shut down over the winter only to crank it up in the weeks before a new season started.
That is not the case anymore.
“All of the teams are year round operations now,” Fitzpatrick said. “This (NCTS) series is as competitive as any, anywhere outside of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series.
“You just can’t show up in May anymore without months of work getting ready.”
Sunday will mark the first time the NCTS will open its season on a road course, something Fitzpatrick thinks should be interesting.
“I grew up short track racing and that is where I am most comfortable,” he said. “But I’ve done pretty good on this race track.”
Good indeed, as Fitzpatrick as two wins and five top five finishes in five races on the 4-km road course.
In his first race in the No. 9 Pfaff Racing Porsche GT3 Kyle Marcelli, of Barrie, got a win. It was the first of two races in the Porsche Cup GT3 Series at the Victoria Day SpeedFest Weekend. The second race goes on Sunday. ... The new ownership at the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park has gone from a trio — Ron Fellows, Alan Boughton and Carlo Fidani — to a duet after Fidani bought out Boughton’s interest. ... FOXSports.com is reporting that IZOD IndyCar’s Andretti Autosport is making noises that it is interested in going NASCAR Sprint Cup Racing next season with Dodge Motorsports. Andretti would replace Penske Racing that is switching to Fords in 2013.
Top 15 in qualifying for Sunday’s Vortex Brake Pads 200
1: Scott Steckly 1:23.922
2: J.R. Fitzpatrick 1:24.092
3: Andrew Ranger 1:24.106
4: D.J. Kennington 1:25.230
5: Ron Beauchamp Jr. 1:25.438
6: Jason Hathaway 1:25.587
7: Kerry Micks 1:25.604
8: Peter Klutt 1:25.687
9: L.P. Dumoulin 1:25.717
10: Robin Buck 1:25.717
11: Steve Cote 1:26.522
12: Jason White 1:27.234
13: Jarrad Whissell 1:27.291
14: Noel Dowler 1:27.903
15: Martin Roy 1:28.369
Five things fans can expect at the Vortex Brake Pads 200 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park:
1: Two time champion Andrew Ranger will attempt one, maybe more, high risk passes in Turn 10 as the cars head for the start-finish line.
The 25-year-old from Roxton Pond, Que., has sat out most of the past two NASCAR Canadian Tire Series seasons in an attempt to earn full time employment in the Nationwide Series.
He has done well, even won a couple of races, in the NASCAR K&N East and West series but has yet to attract a top national sponsor that would allow him to jump into a good ride in the Nationwide loop.
Ranger has to show he’s still hungry and there is no better way to do that than be his aggressive self on the track.
2: Robin Buck may be just a part timer in the NCTS but he’s acknowledged as one of the best stock car road racers in the country.
He will deliver on that reputation Sunday by out-braking just about every car on the grid in the tight corners around the 10-turn, 4 km Canadian Tire Motorsports Park track.
3: If it is door on door action you crave Kerry Micks in the No. 02 Ford and J.R. Fitzpatrick in the No. 84 Chevrolet will provide just that.
The veteran (Micks) and the youngster (Fitzpatrick) just don’t like one another and it seems every time they are on the track together something happens.
With Micks only doing the road courses this season (Mark Dilley will be in the No. 2 Ford on ovals) Sunday will be one of the few chances for Fitzpatrick to get a little pay back for what he saw as an unnecessary bump in he final race of 2011 that cost the No. 84 team a win at Kawartha Speedway.
4: The No. 47 Dodge of L.P. Dumoulin, of Trios-Rivieres, Que., will be among the top finishers despite this being his first full season in the series.
5: D.J. Kennington just missed back-to-back championships when Scott Steckly won the final race of the 2011 season but all that did was make the No. 17 Dodge team more determined than ever to win again.
Although many see Kennington, a native of St. Thomas, Ont., as primarily an oval racer, he has proven to be a very efficient road course driver as well.
Expect him to be fighting for the win at the end of the race.
And he is the defending race champion at the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park road course.