It all comes down to this, this and this for the NASCAR Pinty’s Series championship.
This, of course, is a tripleheader across Friday and Sunday at Delaware Speedway in Southeast Ontario. Seeking his first NASCAR championship, Alex Tagliani leads two-time champion L.P. Dumoulin by 11 points and three-time champion in Andrew Ranger by 33.
Another two-time champion, DJ Kennington, is mathematically eligible at -44 depending on car counts and circumstances over the weekend but it’s not probable or likely.
The point is that Tagliani is hoping to join each of them as a NASCAR champions by Sunday night and will have to fend off each of them on a most challenging short track to get the job done.
“I’ve been in this position before,” Tagliani said.
He missed a race in 2016 to compete in the Indianapolis 500 but was in the owner’s championship mix entering the final race of the season. In 2018, he lost the championship by just eight points to Dumoulin in the Fall Brawl at Jukasa Motor Speedway.
It is only in the past five years that the former Champ Car and IndyCar racer committed to the full championship. Even though he has fielded a car in NASCAR Canada since 2007, there have been several seasons that he’s missed numerous races to compete in the month of May at Indianapolis or several other IndyCar events.
Those were seasons he could have won a championship before now.
“It is what is, right,” Tagliani said. “If I had tried sooner, maybe I could have won the championship. I had some incredible opportunities and experiences, Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year, the pole and having a chance to win the year (Alexander) Rossi won.
“At the same time, my No. 18 (Pinty’s Series) team have been very loyal. They deserve the chance to be champions and that’s what drives me. When we won GP3R, to have the team run a mile to celebrate with me, I want to give them a chance to celebrate a championship. We have been through a lot together.”
Then there’s Dumoulin, who has accomplished a lot in a decade of racing full-time in the Pinty’s Series to the tune of 11 wins in 23 races producing his two championships in 2014 and 2018. He is the closer of his generation, a methodical racer who excels in all facets of Pinty’s competition on roads, streets and short tracks.
Even having won two championships, Dumoulin feels the excitement that lies ahead with a race on Friday and a doubleheader on Sunday.
“I am extremely excited,” Dumoulin said. “Very pumped. It’s three sprint races on a short track to decide the championship and that should excite everyone. That’s a big deal. Everyone has to work hard to get their car driving better after each race, not make the wrong adjustments and don’t forget anything. Delaware has a lot of character. It’s very bumpy. It’s a big challenge.”
To his point, Delaware Speedway can be hard on equipment and the tight confines of short track racing are magnified by the bumps that make racing side-by-side a challenge.
“We have a back-up car, but we don’t want to use it,” Dumoulin said.
Tagliani has the same concerns, even if he enters the weekend from a position of advantage with the 11-point lead.
“You say I control my own destiny in the championship but if there’s a driver who ever feels like he ever controls his own destiny, I want to meet them,” Tagliani said.
That’s especially true with this three-races on two days event format.
“To win races and championships at this level, you need to have good cars and 22 Racing has that,” Tagliani said. “You have to have a good driver and I feel like I am as good as ever. I am really fit, really enthusiastic and ready to go. You also have to have luck.
“If you have shit for luck, the first two parts don’t matter, and we’re going to find out what kind of luck we have this weekend.”
Dumoulin has nothing to lose this weekend with a deficit to make up. However, this is a new position for the 42-year-old to find himself in. His two championships were produced by an early season lead that was extended throughout the summer.
In 2019, Dumoulin entered the final three races of the season third in points but couldn’t catch Ranger.
“We’re the chaser,” Dumoulin said. “We look ahead to Alex over the next three races and we are position to fight for the championship. We’ll see how it goes. There’s being aggressive and there’s racing with respect and it’s sometimes hard to do both on a short track, especially when you’re trying to. But we’re going to race with the same intensity that we always do. That’s my plan.”
Tagliani says he will approach the weekend with a boxer mentality.
“To win a fight, you have to throw punches,” Tagliani said. “When you throw a punch, you leave yourself vulnerable and exposed to a counterpunch, so we have to be smart with a lead about when to throw punches. We’re not going to throw the championship because of a bad punch.
“If we have a car that win the race, we’re going to go for it, but I’m not going to put myself in a position to get punched hard because I threw a bad punch. But you can’t win a fight by protecting for 12 rounds. We’re going to throw some punches too.”
The Canadian Tire 125 is on Friday night at 9:00 ET. The Qwickwick 125 is on Sunday at 3:55 ET. The Fall Brawl is scheduled for 5:20 ET. The tripleheader was necessitated by a rainout at Sunset Speedway and the cancellation of the scheduled Fall Brawl at Jukasa. The races can be watched live in the United States on NBC Sports Gold TrackPass.