Let’s hear it for D.J. Kennington of St. Thomas, Ont., for an amazing performance in Irwindale, Calif., Saturday night when he finished second in the Daytona 500 of short-track racing, the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown.
Kennington, the reigning NASCAR Canadian Tire Series champion, finished second to sometimes-Canadian Tire Series competitor Jason Bowles, of Ontario, Calif., who was driving a Canadian entry prepared by the Gaunt brothers, of Barrie.
Kennington’s finish in the all-star showdown is the best registered by a Canadian Tire national champion since NASCAR purchased the old CASCAR Super Series from Tony Novotny in 2006.
Previous champions Andrew Ranger and Scott Steckly have entered the race – the Canadian Tire champion is guaranteed a starting spot in the 40-car field, as are the champions of NASCAR’s four other "regional series" – but couldn’t record as high a finish as Kennington’s
The St. Thomas racer, son of Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame inductee Doug Kennington and a man who’s knocked on the door of championships for years but couldn’t take that last step until the 2010 season, qualified 15th.
Kennington drove a smart race. He moved steadily up through the field from the get-go – a little luck entered into his run as he managed to avoid any number of the wrecks that always crop up in short-track racing – and was in position to give Bowles a run for his money on the last restart.
But Bowles, who raced several times in the Canadian Tire Series last season (he finished on the podium at the Mosport road-course round), was able to hold off the challenge and take the checkered flag.
Kennington was thrilled with his finish – and his girlfriend and two of his Canadian crew members were there to greet him in Victory Lane.
"We didn’t just come here to run around, we wanted to show how good this team is" said Kennington.
"There were a lot of aggressive moves right from the beginning and I just wanted to look after the car. Right from the first practice I could tell we had a good race car and I wanted to have something left for the end of the race."
He described the run to the finish.
"For the last re-start, we lined up third and then quickly moved to second with a few laps to go. I really tried to get up there for the win but the car was just a little bit tight at the end."
And although he was the driver, he couldn’t have done as well as he did without some help.
"I’m so proud of this whole effort," he said. "I have to thank so many people for making this possible. Castrol Edge – they’ll be back with me for an 18th year this season (in the Canadian Tire Series). Dwight Kennedy and Northern Provincial Pipeline (who supported Kennington when he entered some races in the Nationwide Series) have been great supporters for such a long time.
"And I really have to thank all my guys who came down from Canada with me; they do such a great job and I can’t thank them enough" he said.
Bowles, whose car was entered by John and Marty Gaunt of Barrie, took home a little over $30,000 for his efforts. Kennington collected $26,000 for second and Jonathan Gomez of Twin Falls, Idaho, who finished third, won $17,000.
Former Canadian Tire champion Ranger, of Roxton Pond, Que., who qualified for the race as a winner of races in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, which sanctioned this particular race, finished 22nd and collected $11,300.
Speed TV’s coverage of the race wasn’t any better than last year’s, which was awful.
I don’t know how you can show a race and not show the starting lineup before the green flag fles. This is an all-star race, with competitors entered from all corners of the continent, and it might be nice to know where your local favourite is starting.
And then, of course, as is the case with any broadcast of any race, the producer has his/her favourite and likes to focus on that driver, whether he or she is in the running for the win, or not. In this case, it was U.S. extreme sports personality Travis Pastrana, who eventually finished sixth.
So Kennington was trying to pass Bowles for the victory and the camera, and the commentators, were so busy following the adventures of Pastrana back in the pack that they missed the excitement at the front.
Too bad, particularly for Canadians watching when a Canadian-prepared car wound up wiinning and a Canadian driver was second.
Maybe they’ll get some of these things sorted out in time for next year’s race.