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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Standing backstage, a year ago, at the NASCAR Night of Champions Touring Awards, D.J. Kennington made his intentions clear.
“I told (Scott Steckly) that at midnight everything is back up for grabs,” said Kennington. “So, he can enjoy tonight, but he better be ready to go back to work tomorrow.”
Steckly, the 2011 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 champion, technically, had not even been awarded his trophy and championship ring before he had a fellow competitor telling him that it was already time to start his title defense.
For Kennington, 35, out of St. Thomas, Ontario, the 2012 season was all about getting back to the champion’s stage. Winning the series title in 2010 gave him a taste of the sweet nectar of earning a NASCAR championship. It was a cup from which he definitely wanted to drink again.
“After winning our first (championship) in 2010 and experiencing Champions Week and all that goes with it, I had to get back,” he said.
The Canadian Tire Series schedule is a unique mix of ovals and road courses. The championship can be – and has been – won with high-caliber performance in either discipline, but a driver must be more than solid in the other to make hopes and dreams a reality.
The 2012 slate of events kicked off with a pair of road-course events and Kennington knew that he’d have to hold his own before launching his assault at the top spot in the point standings behind the wheel of his No. 17 Castrol Edge/Mahindra Tractors Dodge.
It’s interesting to note that Kennington repeatedly states that he is an oval racer through and through, and in no way, shape or form a road racer. However, all evidence is to the contrary. In his 27 series career road-course starts he has two victories and 17 top-five finishes with one of those wins coming this season at Edmonton, Alberta.
“I guess we have done pretty well, but the road racers in this series are really tough,” he said. “When you’re out there with (Andrew) Ranger, who pretty much wins them all, and J.R. (Fitzpatrick), who wins the rest, it’s not easy. Heck, Steckly is great, too. He just hasn’t had much luck. And then you factor in guys like Robin Buck and the Dumoulins (Jean-Francois and Louis-Philippe), it’s a stacked field.”
Nevertheless, Kennington clicked off top fives at the season opener on the road course at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park near Bowmanville, Ontario and at Circuit ICAR in Mirabel, Quebec. Four of the next five events were on ovals meaning it was time for Kennington to go to work, and go to work he did.
Collecting his first win of the season at the Speedway at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park triggered a sequence of events not commonly accomplished in NASCAR. After getting that initial victory, Kennington picked up wins at his home track of Delaware (Ontario) Speedway and Motoplex Speedway and Event Park in Vernon, B.C., to run his winning streak to three races in a row.
Next up was the road-course date at Edmonton where a bit of luck came into play. Steckly set a torrid pace from the very start of the race and seemingly had the field covered. However, a pair of late cautions erased his huge lead. On the final restart Steckly and Fitzpatrick made contact with one another which opened the door for Kennington – running in third – to sneak through for a fourth consecutive win.
“They gave me that one,” said Kennington. “After they touched there was just enough room to get through. Honestly, I pointed the nose of the car at the hole and closed my eyes, expecting to get hit. I was amazed that I didn’t. Then I put the hammer down and tried to get away as fast as I could.”
The opportunity at history came at Auto Clearing Motor Speedway in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan – an oval where Kennington is most comfortable. After starting fifth, Kennington bided his time. He led the final 55 laps of the race and drove into both Victory Lane and the NASCAR record books with some heady company. Kennington joined legendary West Coast driver Herschel McGriff (NASCAR K&N Pro Series West – 1972), NASCAR Hall of Famer Richie Evans (NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour – 1985), longtime NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitor Ricky Craven (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East – 1991) and nine-time NASCAR champion Mike Stefanik (NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour – 1997) as winners of five straight races in the modern era of the currently NASCAR-sanctioned touring series.
“I’ve been doing this for a while now. To win five in a row is really special,” Kennington said. “My team worked really hard and gave me a great car every time. And to be included in a group like that is amazing. I’m not sure my name belongs in a group like that.”
The only glitch all season came as a result of a faulty fuel pump at Barrie (Ontario) Speedway in early September that produced a 21st-place finish. It was the only time Kennington finished outside of the top five all season.
“The Barrie deal was unfortunate. It wasn’t anybody’s fault,” said the two-time series champ. “There was no way to tell it was going to happen. It’s one of those things – things break.”
The broken part did tighten the point standings, but only briefly. The blip in Barrie was barely a speed bump. Kennington rebounded to win the final two races of the season to push his win total to a series single-season record seven.
“We wanted to finish strong and close out what we started,” said Kennington. “To win seven races is way more than I could have imagined, but I have the best team in the business. So many people help out with this program – I really can’t thank them enough. It was a great year.”
Kennington and the whole DJK Racing team will be presented with the 2012 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 championship trophies on Saturday, Dec. 8 as part of the NASCAR Night of Champions Touring Awards ceremony in the Crown Ballroom of the Charlotte (N.C) Convention Center inside the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The awards ceremony is slated to be streamed live online in three languages – English French and Spanish – at www.nascarhometracks.com.
“I expect someone to tell me that it’s over at midnight,” Kennington quipped. “That’s fine. We’re telling ourselves the same thing.”
The DJK Racing team equaled a modern era NASCAR touring series record by reeling off five consecutive wins in 2012. Perry Nelson/NASCAR