Kennington earns Nationwide spot

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

DAYTONA, Fla. -- D.J. Kennington had lots of things going through his mind last week when he first took his No. 81 MacDonald Motorsports Dodge on to the 2.5-mile, high-banked oval that is Daytona International Speedway to practice for today's NASCAR Nationwide Series Camping World 300.

His first thought was of his father, Doug, who has been with the 29-year-old from St. Thomas every step of the almost dozen years and hundreds of thousands of miles spent on short tracks criss-crossing the continent in three different racing series that led him to stock car racing's Mecca.

And yesterday when he came into pit lane having made the race with a lap of 179.005 m.p.h. -- 16th fastest lap of 53 cars -- there were lots of laughs, hugs and maybe a tear or two exchanged between father and son.

"I've wanted to be here my whole life," he said. "We've worked so hard to get here. My dad especially. He has set aside a lot of things in his life to make it possible for me to get to this point."

Kennington said that he has been concentrating so hard on just getting his car set-up just right for qualifying that he hasn't really had the time to enjoy being on the track with NASCAR's biggest stars in the lead-up to yesterday's qualifying.

"I'm not thinking about whether it's Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick or Tony Stewart out there on the track with me," he said.

"Maybe later when I get some down time I'll go through it again in my mind, or watch a tape of it."

Stewart, by the way, won the pole in the No. 20 Toyota when he came across the start finish/line with a speed of 180.937.

It hasn't been easy Kennington who, for the past two seasons, has run a full schedule in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, as well as many races as he could qualify for in both the Nationwide and Hooter's Cup series.

"It's a tough, tough deal here," Kennington said. "People don't realize how close these cars are here."

Kennington said the whole experience at making the race at Daytona has been a dream come true for him.

"I just went out there and held it to the rug," Kennington said. "What is making me most proud is just having my dad down here to see me on that track."

Coming from a small-town background, Kennington also knows that there were lots of people who were behind him in his success yesterday.

"Castrol has been a great sponsor. They have been behind me from the start," he said. "And Randy MacDonald and STP Tools and Northern Pipeline."

When he was told that he'll be the lone Canadian racing this weekend at Daytona and that the hopes of the nation were now on his shoulders, Kennington pointed to the Canadian flag on his car.

"I'm just so very proud to be here," he said. "I really wish Jacques (Villeneuve) and Patrick (Carpentier) had made it in the Cup race but I'll gladly carry the colours."

Kennington hopes to parlay today's start into a full season in the Nationwide series, as well as racing in the 12 Canadian Tire events.


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