VALLEE-JONCTION, QC (June 10, 2022)- Twenty-eight days after Raphael Lessard (No. 8 EZ Kleen / Fast Eddie Speed Wear / RJ Investments Chevrolet) lost his NASCAR Pinty’s Series perfect record at oval tracks, he gets his shot at redemption.
Lessard had won his first three oval track races, including his series debut at Autodrome Chaudière in 2019, and was in position to extend his streak to four in the season-opening race at Sunset Speedway. An incident with Marc-Antoine Camirand (No. 96 GM Paille / Chevrolet Canada Chevrolet) in NASCAR Overtime left Lessard with his first runner-up finish.
“Second place sucks,” Lessard said following the race. “The second half of the race, I was just trying to keep the pressure on Camirand because he was the class of the field. At the end, I thought I made a clean pass on him, but he just dive-bombed me really hard in Turn 1.”
Based on his record, it’s hard not to call Lessard the favorite in Saturday night’s QwickWick 250 presented by St. Hubert in Vallée-Jonction. Lessard dominated the second half of the last Chaudière race, leading the final 153 laps. He also swept both Sunset races last year filling in for an injured Donald Theetge (No. 80 Groupe Theetge INC Chevrolet).
But a lot has changed for Lessard in the three years since then. He competed in 35 races in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports (2019-20) and GMS Racing (2021), winning at Talladega Superspeedway in 2020. However, the impact of the global pandemic forced Lessard to step away from the team mid-2021 to plan for the future.
In January, Lessard and Ed Hakonson Racing announced a partnership for the 2022 season in which Lessard would pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet in oval races with veteran Ray Courtemanche Jr. handling road courses.
After sitting out the last race (CTMP), Lessard is ready to go at his home track. He grew up minutes from Chaudière, in St. Joseph de Beauce, Quebec, and began racing there when he was 11 years old.
“It was always fun to watch all those guys like Andrew Ranger and the rest of the Pinty’s guys compete,” Lessard said before his 2019 start. “I kept telling myself, I’m going to be racing against those guys one day.”
And while he continues to pursue his goal of racing in NASCAR’s three national series in the United States, Lessard can settle for not just racing against the legends of the Pinty’s Series but beating them.
JP Bergeron ready for first Chaudière race
Raphael Lessard isn’t the only young driver with roots at Autodrome Chaudière. Before joining the Pinty’s Series, Rookie of the Year candidate JP Bergeron (No. 1 Prolon Controls Rousseau Metals Ford) raced NASCAR Late Models at the track in a support role for the Pinty’s Series.
“I’ve been wanting to do this for a while,” Bergeron said. “I saw the Pinty’s Series come to Chaudiere for the past three or four years when I was running late models weekly there. For sure it will be a big event for me to run on a track that I know well.”
Not that Bergeron has been held back by his limited knowledge of other tracks. He has opened the season with consecutive top-10 finishes (eighth at Sunset and ninth at CTMP) and sits an impressive eighth in the standings in his first season with champion car owner Dave Jacombs. The team brought 2017 series champion Alex Labbe with them to their pre-season test to help dial in the car and coach the 23-year-old Bergeron.
Notes: First Quebec race of 2022 sees record car count
Following two races in Ontario, the series makes its Quebec debut with a track-record 23 cars, the largest Pinty’s Series field since the 2019 season finale Pinty’s Fall Brawl at Jukasa Speedway. In fact, the car count is the highest it has been at a Quebec oval track since the first time the series competed at a Quebec oval. Twenty-four cars entered the National Kodak 250 at Autodrome St. Eustache on July 5, 2008, a race that was won by Scott Steckly.
L.P. Dumoulin, D.J. Kennington, Andrew Ranger and Alex Tagliani are the only drivers to have competed in all six previous Chaudière races. Ranger is the only one of the four with a win; all four drivers have three top fives. … Donald Theetge, who is making his series debut this weekend, has finished in the top 10 in all four of his Chaudière starts, including three top-five finishes. … Dumoulin Competition announced earlier this week a three-year extension with long-term partner WeatherTech Canada through 2024. The partnership began in 2012, with WeatherTech Canada serving as sponsor for all three of Dumoulin’s Pinty’s Series championships.
Race QwickWick 250 presented by St. Hubert
Date / Start Time Saturday, June 11, 2022 / 5:30 p.m. ET
Track / Location Autodrome Chaudière (Vallée-Jonction, Quebec)
TV TSN (Saturday, June 18 / 3 p.m. ET)
RDS2 (Friday, June 24 / 8 p.m. ET)
Live Stream Canada: TSN.ca / TSN app
Fans can stay connected to the NASCAR Pinty’s Series – and all things NASCAR in Canada – at www.nascar.ca, on Twitter, Facebookand Instagram.
From Josh Hamilton