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Fitzpatrick learning ropes of NASCAR in Truck Series

Canadian seeing large ovals for 1st time in career
By Mark Aumann, NASCAR.COM
March 13, 2009 - 4:29pm

You'll have to forgive J.R. Fitzpatrick for wishing there were more Camping World Truck Series races early in the season. One, he's off to a great start, currently 11th in the points after three races. Two, it keeps him from going back to Canada and having to shovel snow.

Fitzpatrick, who won't turn 21 for another two months, is attempting to run a full season for Kevin Buckler's TRG Motorsports team. He finished a surprising fourth in the season-opener at Daytona, then posted consecutive 22nd-place efforts at California and Atlanta.

"I had been running in NASCAR Canada back at home and am always looking for a new challenge," Fitzpatrick said. "Obviously, my goal is to become a full-time race car driver. As of now in Canada, that's not possible. So I'm looking to step up. The competition's great at home but the competition's even more fierce here."

Fitzpatrick, a three-time winner in the Canadian Tire Series, started his racing career at an early age.

"I started when I was 6," Fitzpatrick said. "My dad sponsored a car and there was a class being developed called the Late Model Junior division. I started running that. Basically I started in go-karts and worked all the way up to Late Models, Super Late Models and NASCAR Canada, and then to here."

Fitzpatrick made his Nationwide Series debut in 2007, but with little success. He finished 33rd at Mexico City and failed to finish a lap at Montreal because of electrical issues, winding up 43rd.

"We tried to do a couple of races but had some really bad luck," Fitzpatrick said. "A lot of people don't know that you can't just roll a car into the garage and be competitive. We have a good setup at our place. We have eight cars for NASCAR Canada and everything like that, but these guys are serious about what they do and they find out new things every day. You might see me in some Nationwide stuff this year but nothing's been announced so far."

After finishing seventh in the Canadian Tire Series standings last fall, the native of Cambridge, Ontario, wound up driving for Mario Gosselin at Martinsville. That got him a two-race trial with Buckler, and Fitzpatrick immediately impressed his new owner by qualifying sixth at Phoenix. Now it's a matter of getting seat time.

"I'm just trying to learn how forgiving these trucks are," Fitzpatrick said. "You can really drive them hard. There's a lot of downforce on the front of them so they handle really well. I guess I'm just trying to learn how easy they are.

"It's just how big these tracks are, finding the line, your throttle points, your braking points, if you use brake at all," Fitzpatrick said. "That's the biggest thing I'm trying to learn."

Not only is Fitzpatrick having to deal with a driving a truck, but he's competing at places he's seeing for the first time.

"I'm still trying to learn all these tracks," Fitzpatrick said. "We just couldn't get the push out of the truck [at Fontana]. We were tight all day. I had to roll way out of the gas. If I didn't get caught speeding on pit road, we probably would have ended up around 15th, and I would have been happy about that. But it was driver error. Everything went wrong that day. We had radio communication problems, but that's all behind us now."

The current plan is for Fitzpatrick to race the entire season in the No. 7 Chevrolet and compete for the rookie title.

"We're really going to try," Fitzpatrick said. "I'm with a really good team, and I think we have a good chance of winning rookie of the year. Some of these guys have been to all these tracks before, maybe not in a truck, but they've been in this size tracks. I'm still trying to learn the tracks so they have a small edge, but we're just going to do what we do."

If all goes according to plan, he won't have to fly home every weekend, as he's done since Daytona. He planned to use the time before the series resumes at Martinsville to find a place in North Carolina. Still, there's something to be said for being Cambridge's favorite son.

"They're all very supportive and very pumped up," Fitzpatrick said. "I went into the local Shortstop store and there's a paper with the Daytona race on it and everything like that, so I have a lot of support back home and I appreciate all that."