DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – By Jason Cunningham, NASCAR — Getty Images for NASCAR photo — One of Saskatchewan’s biggest annual sporting events will be even bigger in 2014 when the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 heads to Auto Clearing Motor Speedway for the Velocity Prairie Thunder 250 on Wednesday in Saskatoon.
This year’s event will see all three champions in Canadian Tire Series history take to the third-mile Saskatoon oval. Two-time Velocity Prairie Thunder 250 winner Scott Steckly is a three-time titlist while D.J. Kennington and Andrew Ranger have earned two crowns apiece. Kennington is also a two-time winner at ACMS, but Ranger will be looking for his first win there after emerging triumphant in each of the two previous races this year.
If having every champion in series history wasn’t enough, there will be plenty of other worthy contenders for the Velocity Prairie Thunder 250 trophy. Jason Hathaway has won three of the last five Canadian Tire Series oval races and season co-points leader J.R. Fitzpatrick is a threat every time out. Additionally, Canadian open-wheel racing standout Alex Tagliani will make his first ACMS appearance to add to the event’s star power.
All told, winners of 80-percent of the 91 all-time Canadian Tire Series races will be in Saskatoon on Wednesday.
The Velocity Prairie Thunder 250 will be the second half of the Canadian Tire Series’ annual western swing. This year’s jaunt began at Alberta’s Edmonton International Raceway last Friday. A second event in six days is now on tap with the series’ lone trip to Saskatchewan this season.
The Race: The sixth annual Velocity Prairie Thunder 250 will be the fifth of 11 events on the 2014 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 schedule, and the lone trip to Saskatchewan and Auto Clearing Motor Speedway.
The Procedure: The maximum starting field is 24 cars, including provisionals. The first 21 cars will have secured starting positions through two-lap time trials while the remaining three spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race is scheduled for 250 laps (83.25 miles).
The Track: Auto Clearing Motor Speedway is a .333-mile oval with graduated banking. Saskatoon Stock Car Racing Association Ltd. originated from the Saskatoon Stock Car Racing Club that was formed in 1954. Racing in Saskatoon began at the 8th Street Racing Oval. In 1970, as a result of city expansion, stock-car racing moved to the current Prairieland Exhibition at Bridge City Raceway. In 1999, the City of Saskatoon expanded once again which paved the way for a new track, Auto Clearing Motor Speedway, to be built. Construction of the new track began in April 2005.
Pole Winners: The first five Saskatoon races have produced three different pole winners. J.R. Fitzpatrick and D.J. Kennington have two apiece while Don Thompson Jr. scored the inaugural event pole in 2009. Fitzpatrick set the track qualifying record at 14.665 seconds (81.801 mph) in 2012.
Race Winners: Kennington and Scott Steckly lead the way with two wins apiece while Pete Shepherd III also has a victory. Steckly won the inaugural race and reached ACMS Victory Lane again last year.
Saskatoon Race Notes:
Ranger’s Records: With his 19th career race win last week at Edmonton International Raceway, and his 14th career pole the week before that at Circuit ICAR, Andrew Ranger is tied for the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 all-time lead in both categories. Ranger now shares the victories record with new teammate D.J. Kennington and the poles mark is split with J.R. Fitzpatrick, who was the top qualifier last year at Auto Clearing Motor Speedway.
Fitzpatrick, Dumoulin Also Tied at the Top: The 2014 season is now more than one-third complete and the competition is so close that there’s actually a tie between Fitzpatrick and L.P. Dumoulin atop the championship standings. Both drivers have 162 tallies, 12 ahead of Ranger in third. It’s only 18 points back to Jason Hathaway in fifth, with D.J. Kennington sitting fourth.
Steckly Looks to Defend ACMS Win: Defending Velocity Prairie Thunder 250 winner Scott Steckly could use another victory this week at Auto Clearing to bolster his series championship defense. The three-time titlist has faced adversity through for races this season, but is hanging in there in sixth place in the standings, 30 points back of the leaders. A DNF in the season opener at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park had Steckly in an early hole but he followed with a pair of top fives. Last week at Edmonton he was two laps down at one point and rallied to an eighth-place finish.
Halfway Through Four-Race Grouping: The Canadian Tire series embarked on an aggressive bundle of four events in a 21-day span starting with Circuit ICAR on July 6. The second date came last Friday, July 11 at Edmonton and up next week be Wednesday’s Velocity Prairie Thunder 250. The busy stretch will conclude on July 26 at Autodrome St. Eustache.
Last Time Out: Edmonton
The fourth race of the 2014 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 was contested on July 11 at Edmonton International Raceway in Wetaskiwin, Alberta. Here are some highlights from the Alberta Has Energy 300:
• Andrew Ranger took the checkered flag for the second week in a row, and a record-tying 19th time overall. It was his first oval track win since 2009, the same year he last posted back-to-back victories.
• A two-time road course winner, L.P. Dumoulin recorded his best finish in 21 career oval races with a runner-up effort.
• Prior to the race Alex Tagliani earned his first career oval track pole, and fifth overall. He led a career-high 268 laps before a late-race accident.
• It was the first race in series history at the Wetaskiwin oval.
Next Time Out: St. Eustache
Following the Velocity Prairie Thunder 250, the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 will head back east for the National 250 on July 26 at Quebec’s Autodrome St. Eustache. It will mark the sixth all-time appearance for the Canadian Tire Series at the .4-mile oval. Scott Steckly is the defending winner of the race.