FRASERVILLE, Ont. – D.J. Kennington took the win in the Kawartha 250 on Saturday to become the first two-time winner at Kawartha Speedway, while Scott Steckly wrapped up his second NASCAR Canadian Tire Series championship with a runner-up finish in front of an energized crowd.
Kennington - last year's series champion, who scored his previous win at the .375-mile track in 2009 - held off Steckly in a green-white-checkered finish as the series capped off its fifth season. He also came into the event trailing Steckly in the point standings and needed to win the race to have any opportunity to steal the title.
"We came in here having to win and lead the most laps to have any chance at all. We did that, but it wasn't enough," said Kennington. "Even if we did that, (Steckly) was still going to need to have a really bad night and he's too good for that – his team is too good for that. My hat is off to him. He's a great champion, but I'll tell you right now that we'll be coming after him next year."
The victory marked Kennington's second win of the year and the 11th of his career, putting him in a tie with Steckly for second on the list of career series victories. The driver of the No. 17 Castrol Edge Dodge, from St. Thomas, Ont., came into the final event trailing Steckly by 94 points. Although he was quickest in practice, a slip in qualifying put him 10th on the starting grid. He initially took the lead from J.R. Fitzpatrick on Lap 70 and was out front for 20 circuits. Kennington later chased down Pete Shepherd III and passed him to take the lead for good on Lap 167 en route to leading a race-high 108 laps.
"My guys gave me a great car today – all season long, really," Kennington said. "I kind of messed it up in qualifying, but it didn't matter. The car was really fast."
Although he built a lead of more than three seconds, that margin was erased by a late-race caution that brought about the green-white-checkered finish.
Fitzpatrick charged back after losing a lap in the pits to battle Steckly in the closing laps and finish third in the race while ending up third in the final point standings.
"We had a great car today and proud of our finish," said the pilot of the No. 84 Equipment Express Chevrolet. "For the year, I'm amazed that we finished third in points considering everything that happened to us. I'm not disappointed in finishing third. I'm disappointed in our performance along the way. We're already looking forward to next year and a chance to change our luck."
Kerry Micks took fourth, with Mark Dilley in fifth followed by Don Thomson Jr. in sixth. Steve Mathews, who won his first career series pole in qualifying earlier in the day, recovered from a spin to finish seventh and was the top finishing rookie. Jason White, Jeff Lapcevich and last year's race winner, Pete Shepherd III, completed the top 10.
The man of the night, however, was Steckly, who was able to wrap up the 2011 championship early in the race, needing only to finish 25th or better for the title. The Milverton, Ont., driver started the race in fourth and kept his No. 22 Canadian Tire/MotoMaster Dodge in the lead pack throughout the race. He was on Fitzpatrick's back bumper with 20 laps to go and managed to get by for second at the finish.
"To win two of these championships is really amazing. I can't thank all of the people involved enough. It's definitely a team effort," Steckly said.
Despite coming into the race with a virtual lock on the title, Steckly wasn't about to let up or listen to the people telling him that he had it all sewn up.
"We came in here looking to stay out of trouble all while running like we've run all season," he stated. "Everyone was telling me we had it clinched, but way too many things can go wrong, so we kept at it with no let-up."
Meanwhile, Louis-Philippe Dumoulin clinched the Rookie of the Year title with a 16th-place finish at Kawartha. He came into the place with a 1-point lead in the rookie standings over Isabelle Tremblay, who finished 20th in the race.
The race was slowed due to caution a track series record 13 times for 89 laps while the race lead was exchanged eight times among six drivers.
The Kawartha 250 will premiere on TSN at 12:30 p.m. ET on Sat. Oct. 15 with a special 90-minute show.
Steckly along with NASCAR's other top Canadian performers will be honored at the second annual NASCAR Canadian Recognition Reception on Friday, Oct. 21 at Toronto's Old Mill Inn while the official presentation of the 2011 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series championship trophy will take place at the NASCAR Night of Champions Touring Series Gala on Saturday, Dec. 10 in the Crown Ballroom of the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center in the NASCAR Hall of Fame complex.