After going through a year of bad luck at every turn, J.R. Fitzpatrick had everything fall his way on Sunday at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park for the 2014 Canadian Tire Series season opener. Fitzpatrick would lead 49 of the 54 laps on the way to scoring his ninth career victory.
While one week doesn’t tell the tale of a season, it could be the beginning of something special.
In each year that he has competed in the Canadian Tire Series, Fitzpatrick has shown speed and contended for wins on a weekly basis. His talent behind the wheel has been recognized in the past by those in the United States as he ran some truck series races for Kevin Harvick, and some Nationwide Series races for Dale Earnhardt Jr. There was success along the way with a top five in the Nationwide Series race at Montreal in 2011 driving for Go Canada Racing, with a couple top 10 runs in 2010 for JR Motorsports. There are people that are also quick to forget that Fitzpatrick scored a fourth place finish at Daytona in the truck series season opener.
However while he has the speed and talent, luck was something that he couldn’t find last year as mechanical problems bit him at every turn. Three DNFs in the 12 races shot down his championship chances, especially when you’re faced up against the consistency that Scott Steckly and D.J. Kennington show on a weekly basis. Beyond that, Fitzpatrick was unable to reach victory lane, with his best finish being second at Delaware Speedway.
The results on paper don’t show the ability of the No. 84 Equipment Express Chevrolet team as they contended for wins on a weekly basis, but kept finding every which possible way to fall short. Over the off-season, Fitzpatrick vowed to get his team back to top contenders and he and the entire team put in a lot of hours preparing for the season ahead of them.
When the pieces are clicking together, Fitzpatrick can put together the performance that is worthy of a championship. The 2006 CASCAR Champion came close in 2012 when he finished second in points with two wins and 10 top-1os in 12 races. If the pieces are there, Fitzpatrick and Don Thomson Jr. could be headed to championship glory at season’s end.
The first race is only step one in 13 races this season and in the end, it has the same value as any other race over the year. The champion at the end of the year has sometimes been that winner, or sometimes been someone that has worked their way back after suffering a poor finish to start the year.
Though while it means the same, it helps moral and having a win their back-pocket with luck on their side may be exactly what it will take for Fitzpatrick to score his first NASCAR Championship this season.