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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Tight competition has been the name of the game since NASCAR moved into Canada in 2007 and the 2013 campaign was as hotly contested as any in the sport.
Scott Steckly continued his ping-pong match with D.J. Kennington by winning his third NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 title. Steckly has won titles in 2008, 2011 and 2013 while Kennington, who narrowly missed his chance at a third this year, claimed crowns in 2010 and 2012.
However, the season was not just the Steckly-Kennington show. The rookie-of-the-year battle between Alex Guenette and Ryley Seibert was decided by a single point and went down to the final lap of the season. Jason Hathaway returned to Victory Lane after a 59-race drought. And Louis-Philippe Dumoulin proved he had the capacity to win races.
The remarkable consistency of Steckly and Kennington, though, remains a high hurdle to clear for championship contenders, but the 2013 season presented multiple candidates who were ready, willing and able to make a run in 2014.
Scott Steckly: After starting the season with a pair of finishes outside the top 20, Steckly returned to form with a three-race win streak, behind the wheel of his No. 22 Canadian Tire Dodge, to get back into the championship conversation. But work remained heading into the season finale at Kawartha Speedway. Trailing Kennington by five points, Steckly needed to win the race and lead the most laps to render any Kennington result moot which was the end result. The Milverton, Ont., driver won four times this season to go along with eight top-five and nine top-10 finishes.
D.J. Kennington (Honorable Mention): With less than a handful of slight changes to the season, then these two entries would be reversed. That’s how close it was. Two points is all that separated Kennington from his third championship. The wins didn’t come as frequently, but the ability of the St. Thomas, Ont., driver to maximize point totals each and every race is uncanny. The No. 17 Castrol Edge/Mahindra Tractors Dodge picked up a series-best 11 top-10 finishes and even though it won just once it came in dramatic style against a stacked field at the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres.
Comeback Driver of the Year
Jason Hathaway: The difference between a top-10 driver and a top-five driver can sometimes be miniscule – a bobble here; a slip there – but more often than not it comes down to winning races, and not, which is huge. At Riverside International Speedway, Hathaway won for the first time since the 2008 season finale this year to end a 59-race winless streak. And to prove it wasn’t a fluke the driver of the No. 3 Snap-on Tools/Rockstar Energy Drink Dodge emerged victorious at Barrie Speedway just two races later. Consequently, the Dutton, Ont., driver improved his career-best finish in the point standings from sixth (2010) to third.
22 Racing: A third Canadian Tire Series championship in the last six seasons is probably enough to garner this accolade, but the team also fielded a car for Louis-Philippe Dumoulin, who finished fifth in the final point standings. All told, the team went to Victory Lane six times in 12 races this season. The 22 Racing team also prepared entries for former Formula One and Indy 500 champion Jacques Villeneuve and 2012 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion James Buescher.
DJK Racing (Honorable Mention): The bell cow of the team is the No. 17 of Kennington, but it’s the star power of its No. 28 entry that makes the difference here. The likes of IZOD IndyCar Series star Alex Tagliani, two-time Canadian Tire Series champion Andrew Ranger and the NASCAR K&N Pro Series’ Cameron Hayley, who is a member of the selective NASCAR Next program, drove DJK’s second car this season. In the end, seven different drivers wheeled the No. 28 Dodge out of the championship-winning DJK stable.
Top Breakthrough Performance
Louis-Philippe Dumoulin: Being a driving instructor and getting tagged with the ‘road-course ace’ label isn’t enough to win races in the Canadian Tire Series – road course or otherwise. Dumoulin, of Trois-Rivieres, Que., got over the hump in the season opener at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and duplicated that effort at the same track in September as 36 cars lined up to start the race. For the season the driver of the No. 47 WeatherTech Canada/Bellemare Dodge picked up two wins and four top-five and six top-10 finishes.
Alex Guenette (Honorable Mention): The 17-year-old from Terrebonne, Que., was a Canadian Tire Series rookie in every sense of the word this season. With little or no prior exposure to the series’ cars or tracks, Guenette proved to be a quick study and earned series rookie-of-the-year honors. All told, he drove his No. 39 Motos Illimitées/DLGL Dodge to a 10th-place finish in points with a season-best finish of second in July at Autodrome St. Eustache.
Pinty’s 250, Kawartha Speedway, Sept. 22: With the series championship in the balance, seven drivers led a lap, but it was pole sitter Steckly with the most to gain. In order to erase a five-point deficit and control his own destiny in the title hunt, Steckly needed to win the race and lead the most laps. After wrestling the lead from Pete Shepherd III on Lap 225, Steckly was able to complete his mission and edge out Kennington for the series crown by just four tallies.
JuliaWine.com 100, Circuit de Trois-Rivieres, Aug. 11: In front of a capacity crowd in excess of 30,000 fans and a field that included many of Canada’s best road racers, Kennington got around Jacques Villeneuve on Lap 38 and survived a green-white-checkered finish to extend his all-time series record for career wins to 19.
Hudco Electric Supply 300, Barrie Speedway, Sept. 8: Few tracks provide as much excitement as the cozy .333-mile tri-oval in Barrie, Ont., and the 2013 installment for the series was no exception. The lead changed hands 10 times among seven drivers with four of them – Hathaway (80), Steckly (79), J.R. Fitzpatrick (68) and Kennington (62) – leading more than 50 laps. Hathaway paced the final 20 circuits to capture his second win of the season.
Jason Hathaway drove to Victory Lane on Aug. 17 at Riverside International Speedway to snap a 59-race winless streak. Matthew Manor/NASCAR