Five Things To Watch: Who will break through this year? The 2009 season for the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series will open this weekend at Autodrome St. Eustache (Que.) with the Tufoil 250. With the long winter behind everybody and another race...
Five Things To Watch: Who will break through this year?
The 2009 season for the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series will open this weekend at Autodrome St. Eustache (Que.) with the Tufoil 250. With the long winter behind everybody and another race season at hand, here are five things to watch as the upcoming season progresses.
Who will be this year's surprise entrant to the championship fray?
Each of the first two champions -- Andrew Ranger (2007) and Scott Steckly (2008) -- of the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series was not in the championship conversation prior to their respective title-winning seasons. Each, however, followed similar paths to the title. Both strung together solid early season starts to take control of the point standings and closed the season with strong, consistent finishes to keep the competition at arm's length. Ranger was new to stock-car racing in 2007. No one doubted his driving ability, but how quickly could he adapt to the new styles of racing? Steckly, on the other hand, was not a neophyte to the stock-car world, but rather a time bomb set to go off in the form of a breakout season. Who will be this season's wildcard entrant into the hunt for the championship?
Is it DJ Kennington's year?
No driver in the history -- albeit a short one -- of the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series has more top-five and top-10 finishes than DJ Kennington. Neither of those record-setting marks, however, has earned him that elusive championship. The St. Thomas, Ontario-based driver finished third to Steckly last season and was runner-up to Ranger in 2007. In 25 events in series history, Kennington has finished inside the top 10 an amazing 20 times to go along with an equally impressive 11 top fives. The few finishes outside the top 10 have been at the rear of the field. Every driver has them, but possibly none more costly than to Kennington. Will the hard luck not be quite so tough on him in 2009?
Will the top road-course finisher rule the roost?
The ability to handle road-course racing is of paramount importance in this series. Four races -- nearly a third of the schedule -- require both right and left-handed turns. Just as Ranger (1.75) had done in 2007, Steckly (2.5) accumulated the best average finish in the road races last year. Trouble will find a driver a time or two in the nine short-track oval races simply due to the limited real estate further emphasizing the need for strong finishes in all the road-course races. Championship contenders cannot afford a poor performance on any of the four demanding road courses on the slate. Will the king of the road end up on top this season?
What will be the impact of NASCAR's spec engine program?
New to the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series this year is the introduction of NASCAR's spec engine program. Already in place in the NASCAR's developmental series south of the border in the United States, the Canadian teams now have the opportunity to utilize the cost-effective motor. Both 2008 NASCAR Camping World Series champions -- Matt Kobyluck (East) and Eric Holmes (West) -- ran cars powered by the spec motor. In a test session earlier this month at Delaware Speedway, Kerry Micks, with a spec engine under the hood, laid down the fastest lap of the 12 cars in attendance. Certainly, there will be a learning curve for the teams making the jump to the new program, but it should balance the advantage some of the more established teams which have devoted loads of time and resources to their own engine programs. Can the NASCAR-developed spec motor, a proven commodity, from both a financial and performance standpoint, make the same difference as it has in the U.S.?
Who can handle the meat of the schedule?
In an eight-week span from July 11 to August 30, the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series is scheduled to race seven times. The stretch begins and ends in the greater Montreal area, and also includes the series' swing through western Canada with stops in Vernon, B.C, Edmonton, Alberta and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. As the teams crisscross the country, four of the events will be on oval tracks while three will be on road courses, adding to the degree of difficulty by bouncing back and forth between the two types of cars. Teams will be traveling thousands of miles over the stretch. The longer trips mean less time in the shop tweaking or fixing the cars, so taking care of the equipment is vital. Who will be the road warriors?