J.R. Fitzpatrick ended a 20-race winless streak to pick up his first win since July 25, 2010 – and it wasn't easy as he held off D.J. Kennington in the final turn at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park to win the Vortex Brake Pads 200 in the season-opener for the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series Sunday in front of an ethusiastic crowd.
For Fitzpatrick, out of Cambridge, Ont., it was his seventh career win in the series and his third at the Bowmanville 2.459-mile road course. On the day, he led a race-high 39 laps behind the wheel of his No. 84 Equipment Express Chevrolet.
Despite leading all those laps, he was consistently being hounded by Kennington, Scott Steckly and Andrew Ranger.
"I made some contact with Steckly and I'm sorry about that, but I was going for the win just like he was," said the 24-year-old. "I was expecting a lot of things, but I was pretty sure (Kennington) would race me clean after the way we raced here last year when he beat me."
In his mind, Fitzpatrick was game planning around where Steckly, who started the race from the pole and had the fastest car on the track all weekend, was on the track.
After I changed tires I was kind of saving my stuff because I knew that 22 car would be coming and coming fast," Fitzpatrick said. "It was really insane in those last few laps. We're happy to get the win today and ride this momentum."
Even though Kennington finished as the runner-up he was happy with the results.
"I'll take a top-three finish on a road course anytime," said the driver of the No. 17 Castrol Edge/Mahindra Tractors Dodge. "That was really a great race. Who wouldn't like that one? It was hard-fought battle all day long."
Steckly, on the other hand, was not as pleased with his finish as he began his quest for a third series title in his No. 22 Canadian Tire Dodge.
"We should be happy with a third-place finish, but it's really not what we were looking for after having the fastest car all weekend," said the defending series champion. "It was good, hard racing. We just can't seem to get a win on a road course."
Two-time winner at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park Andrew Ranger finished fourth followed by fellow Quebecer Louis-Philippe Dumoulin in fifth.
Jason Hathaway, Kerry Micks, Jeff Lapcevich, Robin Buck and Peter Klutt completed the top 10.
The race lead changed hands nine times among six drivers including four times between Fitzpatrick and Kennington in the final 10 laps. The field was slowed due to caution just three times for 11 laps.
The Vortex Brake Pads 200 will air on TSN on Sunday, May 27 at 4:30 p.m. ET and Wednesday, June 13 at 10 p.m. ET on RDS2.
The NASCAR Canadian Tire Series with two road-course events to open the season will be back on the track on June 2-3 for the Lucas Oil Grand Prix at Circuit ICAR in Mirabel, Que.