February 16, 2018 12:53 pm

D.J. Kennington set for a second run in the Daytona 500

DJ Kennington, left, watches crew members work on his car during practice for Sunday's Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Photos
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D.J. Kennington will start 30th in the Daytona 500.

The driver who has been one of the best stock car racers Canada has ever seen, has had a sensationally smooth ride through qualifying and the Can-Am Duels and will take his spot on the track on Sunday with some very valuable experience gained last year.

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Kennington made it to race day in 2017 and watched the green flag wave off the start of the “Great American Race” and began to count laps in the #96 for Gaunt Brothers Racing. All of it was on the surreal side for a humble guy from St. Thomas, Ont.

Kennington went all the way to lap 127.

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In races like Daytona, restrictor plates on the cars restrict engine power and level the playing field somewhat. They are also a major contributor to crashes that fans affectionately call, “The big one.”

On lap 127 Jamie McMurray bumped seven-time champions, Jimmie Johnson and Johnson went sideways in a crash that collected 16 cars. One of those was Kennington. His day ended there alongside Johnson and Chris Buescher.

But Gaunt Brothers Racing liked what they saw from Kennington last year and brought him back this year.

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Overall changes were made coming into 2018, with a new ride height and a new spring package.

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None of it phased Kennington. He may have celebrated his 40th birthday, but he has never been someone to adopt the role of old dog who won’t learn new tricks. Kennington has admitted he learns every time he is on the track.

He kicked off Speedweeks with an excellent qualifying lap of 47.848 on February 11, sending him straight through to the Can-Am Duels where he turned his 34th position in the 30 spot with a 15th place finish in Can-Am Duel 2.

Kennington will be directly behind Danica Patrick and in the row ahead of Brad Keselowski on the grid for Sunday.

Alex Bowman has the pole position. Jimmy Johnson will actually start 35th.

In 2017, 15 cars managed to make it through all 200 laps and only half the field was still in perfect running shape when the checkered flag waved at Daytona International Speedway.

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This year, like all years, gives drivers the same long odds of survival. It’s one of the things that makes Daytona the race it is and brings the attention that it does.

But, Kennington doesn’t mind odds like that.

There was no guarantee any of this would happen, starting with just being at Daytona again, but Kennington has been a driver who has taken advantage of the opportunities he has been given in the past. He won’t be content just to be there this year. He’ll want to run side by side with the best of the best, ready to show what he can do behind the wheel of a race car.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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