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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The theme for the 2016 season for Canada's national stock car championship was "welcome to the new era."
It actually started in December of 2015, when NASCAR and Pinty's Delicious Foods Inc. announced a six-year agreement for Pinty's to become the entitlement sponsor of the series. And it carried through to September, when 16-year-old Cayden Lapcevich became the youngest driver to win a national or touring series championship in the history of NASCAR. While Lapcevich's mark would be eclipsed a month later when Todd Gilliland won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West title, Lapcevich maintained plenty of spotlight with his amazing accomplishments.
He became the youngest driver to win a pole and then win a race in the series' 10 seasons. The Grimsby, Ontario, driver wound up with three wins and a top 10 finish in each of the 12 races en route to becoming the youngest driver to win the championship and the first driver to win the Josten's Rookie of the Year and series title in the same season.
Lapcevich's success stole the thunder from a phenomenal season by Quebec drivers.
Andrew Ranger kicked off the season with a win at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in a green-white-checkered finish, while Alex Tagliani -- who missed the opener to run the Indianapolis 500 -- won three of the next five races. Ranger also returned to Victory Lane at one of his home tracks, Circuit ICAR. Kevin LaCroix won two races and a pair of poles and finished runner-up to Lapcevich in the rookie of the year race. Another rising young star, Alex Labbe, won once and had three poles in his first full season in the series.
And, finally, Ontario's Jason Hathaway closed an exceptional career in Victory Lane. Hathaway started all 121 races in series history, winning nine times. His last win came in the 2016 finale at Kawartha Speedway, where he announced he was stepping away from full-time competition.
Lapcevich: For a driver who hadn't intended to run the full season, even halfway through the campaign while he had the championship points lead, Lapcevich put together a staggering 2016. After running just six races in 2015, Lapcevich opened the season with a fourth-place finish at CTMP, and then back-to-back runner-up finishes. After two straight eighth-place runs on road courses (ICAR and Toronto), Lapcevich turned it up a notch. Starting with the series' annual trip out West, Lapcevich had three wins, a runner-up and two thirds in the last seven races. He finished with an average start of 7.8 and average finish of 3.4, while leading 383 laps and completing all 2,172.
Alex Tagliani (Honorable Mention): The open-wheel star turned stock-car standout produced his best Pinty's Series season with a third-place finish in the championship standings despite missing the season opener. Tagliani won three times, had seven top fives in 11 starts and led a series-high 587 laps. He had an average start of 5.4 and average finish of 5.3, and was in the championship hunt for most of the season.
DJ Kennington: While he was winless as a driver, two-time series champion DJ Kennington helped pilot his No. 17 as part of two cars under the Kennington banner to finish in the top six in the owners standings. In addition to DJ's four top fives and 11 top 10s, Ranegr added two wins, five top fives and nine top 10s for the No. 27.
Scott Steckly (Honorable Mention): A year removed from his fourth drivers' championship 2015, Scott Steckly stepped into the full-time role as a car owner and had a great deal of success. In addition to fielding the No. 18 for Tagliani and scoring three wins and seven top fives in 11 races to finish second in owners points under Colin Livingston, Steckly and Co. put the No. 22 on the track five times and had a fourth-place run with Donald Theetge at Autodrome Chaudiere. Theetge also won the pole in at Kawartha.
Alex Labbe scored a win and three poles in his first full season in the NASCAR Pinty's Series. Matthew Murnaghan/NASCAR via Getty Images
Cayden Lapcevich: Yet another honor for the 16-year-old from Ontario. After just one top five and an average finish of 11.3 in six starts in 2015, Lapcevich burst onto the NASCAR scene in a big way in 2016. The youngster was never worse than second in the points standings after the second race of the season and led the way the final four races.
Alex Labbe (Honorable Mention): In his first full season, the 23-year-old from St. Albert, Quebec, showed himself to be a threat to win the race nearly every time out and a legitimate championship contender. Labbe scored his first career win at Autodrome Chaudiere. Labbe won the pole in the season-opener at CTMP, and also at Chaudiere and Circuit ICAR. In addition to his victory, Labbe was second to Ranger at ICAR and had a pair of third-place finishes (Saskatoon and Kawartha). He led 239 laps and had an average finish of 8.0.
CRS Express 300, Autodrome Chaudiere, June 24: In what may have been the best race in the history of the series, the opening stages featured Labbe, Lapcevich and Andrew Ranger jockeying for the top spot and setting themselves up for the final dash to the finish. And what a wild closing laps they turned out to be. Labbe took the lead from Lapcevich with 21 laps to go with the first of nine lead changes in the closing laps, as the two young rising stars ran nearly door-to-door the entire time. Lapcevich slipped up in Turn 4 of the white-flag lapped trying to set up a last-gasp bump-and-run, and allowed Labbe to scored the win in front of his home province fans. The race featured a season-high 13 lead changes.
Lucas Oil 250, Autodrome St. Eustache, Sept. 10: This one Lapcevich got the win. The last driver to pit for tires, the Ontario teen held off Kennington and Mark Dilley on a green-white-checkered finish. Rain had washed out qualifying and led to Labbe and Lacroix swapping the lead over the first 50 laps before giving way to Kennington. Kennington led a race-high 90 laps, and the event featured 12 lead changes among six different drivers. Lacroix, Labbe, Dilley, Tagliani and Kennington all took their turns at the front before Lapcevich paced the final 13 laps and won by .406 seconds.
Cayden Lapcevich (76) gets a nose under Alex Labbe as they battled for the win in the CRS Express 300 at Autodrome Chaudiere in June. Matthew Murnaghan/NASCAR via Getty Images