Watching from his current home in Mooresville, North Carolina, 2016 NASCAR Pinty’s Series champion Cayden Lapcevich wasn’t sure what to make of the season opening doubleheader on Sunday night at Sunset Speedway.
Guess the Pintys series now is just a who can hit who harder
— Cayden Lapcevich (@CaydenLapcevich) August 2, 2021
Of course, he had a personal investment in the form of his wunderkind younger brother Treyten, who arguably could have won both races at their home track in Innisfil, Ontario if not for circumstances out of his control.
The younger Lapcevich was denied a win in the opener when he ended up on the short end of a bumper car restart that left him facing backwards after taking the green from the outside front row. The night didn’t get any easier to swallow when he spun from the inside of eventual winner Raphaël Lessard with two laps to go.
— Cayden Lapcevich (@CaydenLapcevich) August 2, 2021
His older brother thought both incidents were the results of senseless aggression.
Veteran Pete Shepherd III agreed with the sentiment, calling recent Pinty’s Series races free-for-alls, believing that tour director Cherie Putnam should have penalized Lessard for an egregious shot that sent his No. 7 around.
That call wasn’t made and Lessard swept both 125-lap races.
“When I made my eventual pass on him, it was a complete clean lap (because) he overshot the corner,” Shepherd said. “It was like he didn’t like me passing. He’s not used to it. He’s a spectacular race car driver and he didn’t mean to do that.
“I think we could have had a battle had I got out front and he had a good restart, but it seemed like he went over the top. I love NASCAR to death, and I love running these races, but I feel like there should have been a penalty.”
Lessard thought it was fair game after Shepherd used the bumper several times in the laps leading up to the clean pass.
“He came and saw me and was pissed off,” Lessard said. “100 percent he’s pissed off, but I was pissed off too. My rear bumper is all messed up. He broke everything there was. His nose is messed up. They told me he drives like this all the time. He spun out Treyten the first race, so I think he learned a lesson. I’m going to race him the way they race. He was using me to stop so I was doing the same thing.”
DJ Kennington, the veteran face of the tour accused Lessard of crashing everyone he encountered on Sunday night and considered doing him the same way during a green-white-checkered if not for his relationship with team owner David Wight.
“I saw Lessard wreck everyone who was around him tonight,” Kennington said. “I thought about it. (David Wight) is a good friend of mine and owns that car. Obviously, we have a relationship for years and I wasn’t going to do that. It isn’t my driving style.”
The fans at Sunset Speedway voiced their displeasure with Lessard, pelting the 21-year-old prospect with boos and beer cans, making it clear a perceived wrong had been committed against two of their favorite sons.
Everyone had their say and it was candidly everything great about the NASCAR Pinty’s Series. No matter how you felt leaving the third-mile, or upon turning off your television, it made you feel something.
For those outside of Canada, the Pinty’s Series is an obscure international series born from the purchased assets of the iconic CASCAR Super Series, a tour that even stateside fans remember watching on Speedvision.
It’s also NASCAR’s best kept secret.
Typically conducting over a dozen races a year, a standard schedule features races from coast to coast on short tracks, road courses, city streets and on dirt, a slate that encourages hard driving and the occasional hurt feelings.
But these are Canadians we’re talking about, so the grudges don’t seem to last that long anyway, even if fans like playing up the Ontario versus Quebec thing a little too hard.
The roster features IndyCar veterans Andrew Ranger and Alex Tagliani. Formula car byproducts Kevin Lacroix and MA Camirand have found a home with the True North Strong and Fast. Late Model racers DJ Kennington, Jason Hathaway and Lapcevich clan have raced these circles for decades.
It’s arguably the most eclectic paddock in motorsports. Or do you call it a pit area? Are there different words for the infield in English and Québécois? There’s no such thing as a paddock at Ohsweken Speedway anyway.
That diversity is a tremendous amount of fun.
So, this makeshift schedule in the (hopeful) aftermath of COVID-19 will transition from tiny Sunset Speedway to the Streets of Trois-Rivières for the celebrated Three Rivers Grand Prix, arguably the most prestigious event on the schedule.
Lessard wasn’t scheduled to run the full campaign, and yet, suddenly finds himself two-for-two to start the season. He is expected to race at home in GP3R too and might be poised to consider making a run at another championship to go next to his 2015 CARS Tour Super Late Model title.
He want to return to the NASCAR Truck Series in 2022, too.
“I’m not sure,” Lessard said. “Donald called and told me he broke his hand and asked if I wanted to race and I said 100 percent — there’s no way I would say no. I’m just very grateful for the opportunity.”
If it happens, Lessard would have a head start on expected championship favorites Dumoulin (4.5 average finish), Tagliani (6.0) and Ranger (9.0). Shepherd proved both on the track and off why he would be an asset to the tour full-time too.
Even without them on the series full-time, the unpredictability of Sunset on Sunday was a snapshot of what makes NASCAR Pinty’s so captivating.
The racing is thrilling, the schedule is diverse, and its personalities are so incredibly engaging. It’s NASCAR’s best secret and with every event livestreamed across North America, there’s no reason not to order a can of poutine gravy, cheese curds and fries and follow along from home.