Fitzpatrick Eager To Begin Canada's NASCAR Era
NASCAR Canadian Tire Series Set to Begin Its First Season
Fitzpatrick's championship-winning #84 from last season. (CASCAR Photo)
J.R. Fitzpatrick already has a NASCAR race under his belt this season – an entirely forgettable 33rd-place run in the NASCAR Busch Series event in Mexico City – but he is ready to get to the meat and potatoes of his 2007 race season, the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series.
“I am pumped up and so excited,” said Fitzpatrick, 19, who hails from Cambridge, Ontario. “Everybody is. There is a feeling in the air with every team that I know of.”
The anticipation and excitement is stemming from the fact that the inaugural event for the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series is now nearing the center of the radar screen. The Dodge Dealers 200 is scheduled for Saturday, May 26 on the 5/8-mile oval of Cayuga Speedway Park.
Some teams, including Fitzpatrick’s, tested their cars at Cayuga on May 11-12. The biggest change to the cars for the former CASCAR Super Series competitors is moving to a wider Goodyear Eagle tire on par with those used by the NASCAR Grand National Division.
“In my mind, it was going to be much faster and stickier than our old tires,” said Fitzpatrick. “It was a little faster, but it did not have the grip that I was expecting. There will be a bit of a learning curve with these tires and we’re all in the same boat for the most part. We did real well, though. We were able to adjust on the car and make it better, so we came out of it feeling pretty good overall.”
Aside from having several laps of practice on the new tires; Fitzpatrick feels that he has another tactical advantage over many in the field for the Dodge Dealers 200. With the NASCAR Busch Series start in Mexico City, he has a familiarity with many of the nuances of NASCAR.
“I don’t know that I would call it an advantage, but it is definitely a familiarity,” Fitzpatrick said. “The technical process for the cars and how the whole event will unfold will be new to most of the teams, but is something that we have been exposed to. It’ll help in these first few races, no doubt.”
Coming off a championship in the final season of the CASCAR Super Series, the Fitzpatrick camp heads into Canada’s NASCAR era with high expectations, but he knows that winning the first NASCAR Canadian Tire Series championship will not be an easy proposition. In winning the final CASCAR Super Series title, Fitzpatrick garnered a win at Barrie (Ontario) Speedway and notched five additional top-five finishes, but the NASCAR banner and new series brings a clean slate to everybody.
“We’re all rookies, I guess,” says Fitzpatrick. “I can assure you, though; the desire to win that first [NASCAR Canadian Tire Series] championship is real. With the way that everybody has stepped up their programs, I just hope to be competitive race-in and race-out.”
Who is Fitzpatrick looking out for this season?
“My teammate Don Thomson Jr. is one, along with Kerry Mix and D.J. Kennington, but the guy who no one is talking about – and I think will be a factor this year – is Jason Hathaway. He’s a good driver and has made some key changes to his team.”
Fitzpatrick also believes that NASCAR’s venture in Canada will change the landscape of racing in the country.
“A lot – and I mean a lot – of talented young drivers who in years past may have automatically jumped into open-wheel cars, will consider and turn to stock cars,” Fitzpatrick said. “Look at Andrew Ranger, for instance, he was in open-wheel stuff and he has made the switch. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but stock car racing is a credible and viable option with NASCAR’s involvement.”
The business at hand, though, is the Dodge Dealers 200 and Fitzpatrick feels that it is a great place to get the new season underway.
“It’s a 5/8-mile track, it’s fast and there is room to maneuver,” he said. “It was a little green at
the test session earlier this month, but come race time it will have plenty of rubber down on it and be fast. I like the high line there. Not many guys like to venture out there, but the car will stick if you’ve worked on it.”
It seemed difficult for Fitzpatrick to quell his excitement for the new season.
“At that [NASCAR Busch Series] race in Mexico City, those guys run 100 percent all the time and this is exactly what we’re going to have to do,” Fitzpatrick said. “This series is going to be huge. We’re going to have more cars, more competition, more enthusiasm, more everything. I can’t wait. It’s going to be fun!”
Ticket information for the Dodge Dealers 200 can be obtained by calling Cayuga Speedway Park at (866) 670-1958 or by logging onto www.cayugaspeedwaypark.com.
FIVE DRIVERS TO WATCH IN 2007
As the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series drivers and teams prepare for their season-opening race Saturday at Cayuga Speedway Park, here are five drivers to watch:
J.R. Fitzpatrick: The 19 year-old Cambridge, Ontario resident won the final CASCAR Super Series championship, but the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series brings an empty record book into the 2007 season. His experience in the NASCAR Busch Series event in Mexico City is undoubtedly a feather in his cap and provides familiarity with NASCAR procedures, both on and off the track. He will also compete in the NASCAR Busch Series event later in the season at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
D.J. Kennington: This 30 year-old out of St. Thomas, Ontario has two NASCAR Busch Series starts (Richmond, Va. and Phoenix, Ariz.) under his belt this season. Like Fitzpatrick, he will have a level of comfort with the NASCAR way. The multi-victory CASCAR veteran with solid backing from Castrol looks to use his NASCAR experience to his advantage with a Dodge Charger that he knows very well. He, too, will compete in additional NASCAR Busch Series events throughout the season.
Andrew Ranger: It’s hard to believe, but at 21 years of age, the Roxton Pond, Quebec native will not be the youngest regular competitor, but he did make the biggest splash in announcing his intentions to race in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series. He has made the jump from the CHAMP Car World Series where he finished 10th in the 2006 point standings.
Don Thomson Jr.: The 45 year-old veteran racing out of Ayr, Ontario is a hard man to pick against in Canadian stock car racing. He is a five-time CASCAR Super Series champion. And, by the way, those five titles came consecutively from 2001-05. He also collected the CASCAR eastern series crown in 1999 and 2000.
Dave Whitlock: This 41 year-old veteran from Petrolia, Ontario is also a former CASCAR Super Series champion, having won the titles in 1997 and 1998. He is looking to get the early jump on the competition having a great deal of recent success at Cayuga. Also like Thomson Jr., Whitlock has a 1991 CASCAR eastern series title to his credit.
Fitzpatrick (NASCAR Touring Photo)