DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Cayden Lapcevich has gone from the underdog to the hunted.
The 17-year-old from Grimsby, Ontario, had a record-setting 2016 as he collected three wins and nine top fives in 12 races en route to sweeping the NASCAR Pinty’s Series championship and Josten’s Rookie of the Year Award. He broke the NASCAR mark as youngest champion in national or touring series history, and established himself as one of the sport’s brightest rising young stars.
He’s back for an encore, beginning with Sunday’s Can-Am 200, at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario. And he will have plenty of stout challengers.
While Lapcevich was pulling away to claim the Pinty’s Series title, the field for Canada’s national championship was one of the most competitive in series history.
Second through sixth were separated by just eight points at the end of the season. That group included Alex Tagliani, who missed the opener at CTMP to compete in the Indianapolis 500, as well as former series champions Andrew Ranger, L.P. Dumoulin and D.J. Kennington.
Four drivers won multiple races, including Kevin Lacroix, who bounced back from mechanical issues that relegated him to a 23rd at CTMP in the opener to win the return race there in September.
In the first 10 years of the series, Ranger, Kennington and Steckly all won multiple titles, but no driver has won back-to-back championships. Kennington came the closest: He was second in 2013, two points behind Steckly, a year after capturing his second crown.
Don’t bet against Lapcevich winning two in a row and making more series history, but if he’s going to do it, he’s going to have to top a loaded field.
RACE: Can-Am 200
PLACE: Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Bowmanville, Ontario
DATE: Sunday, May 21
TIME: 1 p.m., ET
TRACK LAYOUT: 2.459-mile road course
2016 WINNER: Andrew Ranger
2016 POLE WINNER: Alex Labbe
EVENT SCHEDULE: Saturday, May 20 – Garage opens: 9 a.m.; Practice: 12:15-1:15 p.m.; Road-course qualifying: 4 p.m.
Dave Drimmie, (416) 835-6601, firstname.lastname@example.org
EVENT HASHTAG: #CanAm200
NASCAR IMC CONTACT: Jason Christley, (386) 310-6094, email@example.com.
The Race: The Can-Am 200 will be the first of 13 races on the 2017 NASCAR Pinty’s Series schedule. It is the first of two stops at CTMP, and one of five road-course events.
The Procedure: The maximum starting field is 32 cars, including provisionals. The first 27 cars will secure starting positions based on the road-course qualifying process. The remaining five spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race will be 51 laps (125.4 miles / 200 kilometers).
The Track: The 2.459-mile road course originally opened in 1961 as Mosport Park. The venue originally also included an oval track. Andrew Ranger won the inaugural NASCAR Pinty’s Series event in June of 2007, and the track’s road course has held two series events annually since 2013. The track was renamed from Mosport International Raceway to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in February 2012. It held the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event on Sept. 1, 2013.
Race Winners: There have been seven different winners in the 14 previous NASCAR Pinty’s Series races at CTMP. The last five events have featured five different winners. J.R. Fitzpatrick has five wins and Andrew Ranger three. All three of Ranger’s wins have come in the Victoria Day Weekend race.
Pole Winners: Seven different drivers have won the pole. Ranger with six and Steckly with two are the only two drivers with multiple pole awards. Alex Tagliani set the track record at 106.952 mph in qualifying for last September’s race.
Can-Am 200 Notes:
FAST START: As the opening race of the season, the Can-Am 200 will set the tone for the season. Cayden Lapcevich showed he was a legitimate championship contender with his fourth-place run against the road-course crowd last year. In the series’ first 10 years, the eventual champion has finished outside the top seven only once (Scott Steckly, 24th in 2013) and inside the top five seven times. Throw in the fall race at CTMP, and Steckly’s 11th in 2013, was the only other time an eventual champion finished outside the top seven at CTMP. Conversely, the spring race winner has ended the season in the top five in points eight of 10 seasons. Only Andrew Ranger (2007 and 2009) has won the race and the championship in the same season.
NEW LOOK FOR TAGLIANI: Alex Tagliani has traditionally skipped this event to compete in the Indianapolis 500. This year, though, with Lowe’s Canada on board joining Epi-Pen, Tagliani is committed to running the full slate and chase Canada’s national stock car championship. The popular driver from Quebec has a top five and two top 10s in four starts at CTMP, with an average finish of 12.5. He set the track record in qualifying in last fall’s race and will be a threat to win Sunday.
BACK FOR MORE: Jason Hathaway stepped away from full-time racing in the Pinty’s Series in style last season, closing out the year with a victory in the season finale. Hathaway, who has started all 121 races in series history, will continue the streak at least one more race as he’s entered into the Can-Am 200. He’s had up-and-down luck at Bowmanville, with three top fives and also three DNFs in 14 starts. He won the fall race in 2015.
ANSWERING THE BELL: Another of the sport’s top young drivers, 22-year-old Christopher Bell will make his series debut. Bell, who has three career wins in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and his second in the 2017 standings, will drive the No. 22 for four-time championship driver Scott Steckly. Bell finished fifth in his only previous start in the truck series at CTMP (2016). Steckly had six top fives in 12 starts at CTMP, and 2017 Daytona truck winner Kaz Grala finished 20th in the No. 22 last year there.
FAMILIAR FACE: L.P. Dumoulin is second among active drivers (behind Kennington) with an average finish of sixth in 10 starts at CTMP. He has two wins and seven top fives at the track, including a victory in 2013’s spring race. Dumoulin recently announced a renewal with WeatherTech Canada for two more seasons on the No. 47 Dodge.