DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - He's been nosing around it for a while and Steve Mathews feels it's time to take the next step.
Mathews splashed onto the scene in 2009 in his NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 debut at the Speedway at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario by setting fast time in practice and the race results showed it wasn't a stab in the dark. After qualifying fourth, the now 22-year-old out of New Liskeard, Ontario finished sixth to prove that he could compete with Canada's best stock-car competitors.
In three subsequent races on that same half-mile oval Mathews has driven his No. 15 Bill Mathews Motors Ford to two more top-10 finishes and a start from the outside pole position a year ago in the Clarington 200.
After 22 series starts - primarily on ovals - across five seasons now, Mathews, who scored a series career-best finish of third on June 15 at Delaware (Ontario) Speedway, has three top-five finishes and two pole wins. While not an indictment on his performance Mathews notes the glaring lack of a victory. Considering the competition, it's not a huge red flag, but he thinks it's past time to go to Victory Lane. Further whetting his appetite for a win was last September's battle at Barrie (Ontario) Speedway. Mathews started from the pole position and had a late-race lead before tangling with some traffic resulting in a disappointing finish in fourth.
"I really thought we had that one, but it didn't work out," said Mathews. "When you get that close it makes you want it even more. I have no doubt that we'll get there. We have a solid team."
Cutting his racing teeth on the half-mile oval at Delaware, Mathews believes the two Ontario tracks are similar enough for the experience to transfer.
"I began my career at Delaware and the two tracks are fairly similar," he said. "We run the same gear and the setups are pretty close. There are a few differences between the two (tracks), but I feel comfortable there."
The relatively flat egg-shaped oval at CTMP creates some setup problems for race teams, but Mathews enjoys competing there.
"I like that track," he stated. "It can be a little tricky, but everyone knows it well and will be ready for the race. I don't expect anyone to be surprised."
The stakes for the Clarington 200 were raised last week with Canadian Tire Motorsport Park's announcement that they will cease operation of the oval track later this summer to continue the ongoing renovation of the facility by the new ownership group that came onboard in 2011.
"I absolutely would love to win the last Canadian Tire Series race there," declared Mathews.