DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – By Shon Sbarra & Jason Cunningham — Getty Images for NASCAR photo — Finding the balance will be the key to Scott Steckly’s season.
Juggling the operation of a multi-car team and defending his NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 championship won’t be easy for Steckly in 2014. It’s not a new role for the three-time series champion, but there’s a sense that the ante has been raised this year.
A new state-of-the-art race shop for 22 Racing came online over the offseason as have three new teammates – Ray Courtemanche Jr., Luc Lesage and Alex Tagliani. With that comes new faces to know and equipment to prepare heading into the season-opening Pinty’s presents the Clarington 200 on May 18 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park near Bowmanville, Ontario.
“We’ve been out and tested all of the cars, but mine,” said Steckly. “It’s pretty difficult to find time for everything. It seems like the last car to get prepared is mine.”
At 42 years of age, the 15-time Canadian Tire Series race winner is setting the stage for his racing career to continue after he hangs up the helmet.
“This is the way I want to go right now,” he said. “I want to be involved in racing after I’m not in the car anymore.”
No time table has been set for climbing out from behind the wheel and there are no signs that it should be an active train of thought. The Milverton, Ontario driver has won three of the last six and two of the last three series titles. The consistent contender has posted 51 top-five finishes in his last 75 series starts dating back to his first championship season in 2008.
It’s through that consistency and intimate knowledge of the Canadian Tire Series’ tracks and cars that allows Steckly to branch out in new areas of the sport.
“My stuff kind of gets pushed to the back burner,” he said. “Once we get into the season a little, though, I think it will level out.”
Winning three NASCAR championships is not something that Steckly envisioned when he started racing street stocks in 1992.
“It’s more of a testament to those around me,” said Steckly. “It’s just impossible to accomplish anything without a great team. That team includes sponsors, crew members, family members and many others. It’s takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to do what we’ve done.
“From a personal perspective, I’m very proud of our accomplishments.”
Despite the championships, race wins and pole awards, there is one thing Steckly has yet to accomplish in the Canadian Tire Series – win a road course event. It’s not, however, something that he, or his team, spend time anguishing over. More than adequate results are there. In 31 series career road course starts, Steckly has 18 top-five finishes.
“That’s a question that I get a lot, but to be honest I don’t sit around worrying about it,” he said. “If we just go out and do what we do, then it’ll come. We probably already should have a couple, but that’s how it goes in this sport. Overall, our performance has been good. It’s not like we’re not competitive.”
Despite an active offseason for drivers and teams, Steckly expects the 2014 season to look like any other from a competitive standpoint.
“This is an incredibly tough series to compete in,” he stated. “There’s just not a lot of separation between the drivers, cars and teams. Whoever wins this thing this year, or any year, earns it. Nothing comes easy. Everything – pit strategy, lapped cars, qualifying – has to go right to win one of these races let alone a championship.”
The Race: The Pinty’s presents the Clarington 200 will be the 2014 season-opening event for the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1, and the first of two events at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. The race will headline CTMP’s Victoria Day SpeedFest Weekend.
The Procedure: The maximum starting field is 32 cars, including provisionals. The first 27 cars will have secured starting positions through NASCAR road race style group qualifying. The remaining five spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race is scheduled for 51 laps (125.4 miles, 201.8 kilometers).
The Track: Canadian Tire Motorsport Park opened for auto racing in 1961. The 2.459-mile, 10-turn road course welcomed the Canadian Tire Series for the first time on June 17, 2007 in an event won by Andrew Ranger. The facility also featured a half-mile oval that held seven series events from 2007-13.
Race Winners: There have been four different race winners in eight all-time races at the CTMP road course, led by J.R. Fitzpatrick with three. L.P. Dumoulin was victorious in both races there in 2013.
Pole Winners: There have been four different pole winners at the CTMP road course, led by the three of Andrew Ranger. Fitzpatrick set the series’ track qualifying record in this event last year at 83.286 seconds (106.289 mph).
Bowmanville Race Notes:
Season Nutshell: The 2014 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 season will visit 10 tracks in five provinces. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park will host two events – the May 18 season opener and the Aug. 31 date in conjunction with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event. Four events will be on road courses while seven races will be held on oval tracks.
Habit Forming: For the third straight year, the Canadian Tire Series opens the season on the 2.459-mile road course at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. It’s the fourth consecutive season to open at the Ontario facility with the 2011 campaign getting underway at the half-mile oval that was formerly on the grounds.
Dumoulin Do Over?: L.P. Dumoulin broke into the victory column a year ago in the Bowmanville opener and followed it up with another CTMP triumph in the September visit. In the offseason, Dumoulin shifted his team’s base of operations from Ontario to Quebec in order to be closer to home.
Racing to Third: Two-time series champion Andrew Ranger is back and looking to join Scott Steckly as three-time title winners. Ranger will compete in the No. 27 Mopar Dodge out of the DJK Racing stable. The Roxton Pond, Quebec driver has 14 series road course wins, including two at CTMP, but none since 2009.
Pinch Hitter: Edmonton, Alberta’s Stefan Rzadzinski gets the start behind the wheel of Alex Tagliani’s No. 18 EpiPen/Dicom Express Dodge for the season opener as Tagliani attempts to make the field for the Indy 500, where he started from the pole in 2011. The 21-year-old Rzadzinski brings a wealth of karting and open-wheel racing experience into his first NASCAR event.
Simone Saddled Up: After a couple of seasons away, Anthony Simone is back in the Canadian Tire Series fold. The Holland Landing, Ontario driver scored 16 top 10s in 39 series starts covering the 2008-10 seasons.
Bowtie on the Bumper: In a new look, Jason Hathaway and his Ed Hakonson Racing team made the switch from Dodge to Chevrolet over the offseason. He joins J.R. Fitzpatrick as series regulars sporting the General Motors brand. White Motorsports, Promotive Racing and the Legendary Motorcar entries also proudly display the Chevy bowtie.
Math Class: Don’t be fooled by the numbers. The Pinty’s presents the Clarington 200 is scheduled for 51 laps covering 201.807 kilometers.
Last Time Out: Kawartha
The 2013 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 season concluded on Sept. 22 at Kawartha Speedway in Fraserville, Ont. Here are some highlights from the Pinty’s 250:
- The 2013 title came down to a green-white-checkered flag finish in the finale as Scott Steckly emerged with the checkered flag, and consequently, the championship trophy.
- Steckly’s win, and a fourth-place finish by D.J. Kennington, gave Steckly the crown by just two tallies over Kennington.
- It was the second win of Steckly’s career at Kawartha, and 15th overall. He also became the first driver to earn three series championships.
Next Time Out: Vallée-Jonction
Following the Pinty’s presents the Clarington 200, the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 will return to action on June 14 for the inaugural Budweiser 300 at Autodrome Chaudiére in Vallée-Jonction, Que. It will mark the series’ first visit to the quarter-mile oval located 40 miles southeast of Quebec City.