The Grand Prix of Toronto could be Separation Saturday of sorts for the two NASCAR Pinty’s Series championship leaders.
Or it could be the inevitable reckoning that brings the rest of the field closer to Kevin Lacroix and Andrew Ranger following a blistering start to the season for the two Quebecois veterans.
Lacroix and Ranger have won two of the first three races of the season at Mosport and Jukasa respectively. Super Late Model star turned NASCAR Truck Series part-timer Raphaël Lessard won the third at Autodrome Chaudière.
Lacroix has finishes of first, second and second. Ranger has finishes of second, first and fourth. As a result, Lacroix has just a one-point advantage over Ranger entering this weekend’s race on the Streets of Toronto.
But everyone else is 20 points or further back.
- Kevin Lacroix Ldr
- Andrew Ranger -1
- Alex Tagliani -20
- L.P. Dumoulin -21
- Alex Labbe -22
- D.J. Kennington -27
- Mark Dilley -28
- Jason White -32
- Donald Theetge -32
- Jason Hathaway -35
- Marc-Antoine Camirand -35
- Brett Taylor -39
Tagliani finished 11th at Mosport. Dumoulin finished 15th at Chaudière. Labbe finished 13th at Jukasa. Everyone with the exception of the two championship frontrunners have already used-up a mulligan. So, on one hand, perhaps Lacroix and Ranger are due for one of their own. On the other, everyone else is potentially a second mulligan away from being nearly eliminated from the championship after just a handful of races.
Tagliani doesn’t totally see it that way.
“I was actually further back last year,” Tagliani said, 23 points back instead of 20 back. “In a way, it’s positive because we are closer than last year, but on the other hand, I can’t start looking at it in terms of wins.
“Because it’s an average thing. Everyone who has won championships over the past couple of years have had a fifth-place average finish. That’s the guy who tends to have the most points at the end of the year. Last year, what cost us huge was the first race at Mosport, where we were leading and got taken out, which sort of happened again this year. We made it back up, but we didn’t have a margin of error.”
Tagliani lost the championship to Dumoulin by just seven points in 2018.
On the bright side for Tagliani, and everyone else for that matter, is that Dumoulin is off to a worst start than last year. As a result, he who stands to be the championship favorite has the same razor thin margin of error that Tagliani does — and he knows it too.
He’s aware that he’s got to be careful on the tight corners of Exhibition Place not to be involved in a second straight terminal crash, because it could represent the end of his championship hopes.
“You don’t want to wish bad things on someone who is having a good season, and it is early, because I remember how far Tagliani came back to nearly catch us with three races left,” Dumoulin said. “You just never know. Things can’t happen really quick, especially at a place like this, and if you have the right team really ready to fight for a championship.”
And that’s the thing about the top half of the NASCAR Pinty’s Series grid — they are all capable of getting hot and rolling off lengthy podiums. Dumoulin is a two-time champion for a reason. DJ Kennington and Andrew Ranger are the long-time championship-winning faces of the tour.
Tagliani seems destined for a crown as does Lacroix now that he has mastered ovals.
And then there is Alex Labbe, who won the 2017 championship, bolted to the Xfinity Series with Mario Gosselin in 2018, and is now back to try to go back-to-back in Pinty’s Series championship attempts.
But maybe, just maybe, Lacroix’s mulligan will come on Saturday after he could only qualify eighth.
“We’re not going to race for the win,” Lacroix said. “Maybe a podium. Maybe if things happen in front of us, it is possible, I just don’t see it.”
And Ranger will start directly in front of him, so maybe again, this is closer to the law of averages than a true separation from the current front runners.
The Pinty’s Grand Prix of Toronto will start at 5:15 ET and will air live on FansChoice in the United States and on the TSN app in Canada.