May 9, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie Ben Kennedy hasn’t taken the usual path of a young driver. But perhaps that was to be expected.
The great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. and son of International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa France Kennedy received a thorough education in the sport by working jobs at Daytona International Speedway – everything from cooking hot dogs and hamburgers for track employees to creating signs for events at “The World Center of Racing.”
Kennedy, 21, also just completed a more formal education as well, receiving his diploma in sports management from the University of Florida – which included a final semester internship at NBC Sports Group during the Sochi Olympics.
But instead of parlaying it all into a job somewhere within the sanctioning body or with a race team or even some ISC track, Kennedy is focusing on a dream that precious few are able to realize: Becoming a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver.
Thus, the backup plan in case he doesn’t turn out to be the next Jimmie Johnson.
“Having [a degree] in your back pocket in case this racing thing doesn’t work out – I think some people say the odds of being a pro athlete nowadays are less than you winning the lottery, so if this racing thing doesn’t work, you have that degree in your back pocket and work somewhere in the motorsports industry or some other business,” he said recently to MotorSportsTalk.
“I’ll come to that road if I come to it, and if not, I’m gonna keep digging on this racing stuff.”
While time will tell if Kennedy makes it to the Cup Series, it’s clear by his ascension to the Trucks that he is indeed a talented wheelman.
He won multiple championships at Florida short tracks such as New Smyrna Speedway and the Orlando Speedworld, and made the jump to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East in 2011. In 2012, he scored his first NASCAR-sanctioned win in a Whelen Euro Series event in France. Last year, he broke through for his first K&N East triumph at Five Flags Speedway in Florida.
He would go on to add one more win at Winston-Salem en route to a fourth-place finish overall in the standings. But his 2013 campaign was also notable for him getting his first taste of the Trucks by running in five races (Bristol, Iowa, Chicago, Martinsville, and Homestead-Miami).
Three of those races had Kennedy drive for Turner Scott Motorsports and post a strong fourth-place result at Martinsville. The TSM group obviously liked what they saw; Kennedy is now one of their full-time drivers.
“It’s been really cool working for TSM and racing for them for the past five races last year and now [full-time] this year as well,” Kennedy said. “I know we have a great crew together – it’s something that [team owners] Steve Turner and Harry Scott have worked on, and I think they have an awesome team going right now. It’s got a little bit of everything and we’ve got Mike Shelton as our crew chief, who [helped] James Buescher to his 2012 [Truck Series] championship.
“They’re definitely race-winning trucks, and there’s definitely a race-winning crew behind it.”
Heading into the third Truck race of the year tonight at Kansas Speedway, Kennedy’s already had some cool moments. He sat on the pole and led 52 laps at his beloved Daytona in the season-opening race (in which he finished 15th).
Most recently at Martinsville, he earned his best Truck result yet with a third-place finish. Kennedy now sits sixth in the championship, just 10 points behind current co-leaders Johnny Sauter and Timothy Peters.
While Kennedy figures his best chances of winning will come on the short tracks with which he’s more familiar, he’s looking forward to mastering the art of racing on the bigger ovals.
“I’m starting to learn [aerodynamics] and how the Trucks go around the corner with other Trucks around them, and how they get aero-tight and aero-loose, all that stuff,” he explained.
“Another big jump for me was the difference of the tires that we run – going from a more flexible, bias-ply tire that’s more forgiving to a radial tire that’s much less forgiving and kind of on edge all the time.”
It’s a lot to take in for any young racer, even one with a pedigree. But put the family ties to the back burner and that’s what you have with Kennedy: An evolving young racer.
It will be a tough process. But while he admits there’s a little bit more pressure on him to succeed, his family’s behind him at every turn.
“They’re really supportive of whatever I want to do, which is really cool,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, when we all get in our race cars and strap in and put the helmets on, there’s always pressure to win on every one of us coming up through this.
“We all want to make it up to the Cup Series, and there’s pressure on us to win, to be a great spokesperson for the sponsors that we work with. And there’s definitely pressure to make it up to the Cup Series one day, which I know is, for most of us, our hopes and dreams.”
And so, with an open mind, humble attitude, and heavy right foot, Kennedy – representing a new generation of one of American sports’ most influential families – charges into the future that neither he nor anyone else can predict.
But somehow, you figure he’s going to leave his mark, whether it’s in the boardroom or behind the wheel.
Sep 2, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Team Penske president Tim Cindric all but confirms Will Power will run the No. 1 in 2015.
Sep 2, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
MAVTV announces IndyCar’s return to Fontana for two more years through 2016, although official confirmation from the sanctioning body and a date remains to be revealed.
Sep 1, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Kahne to NBCSN contributor Nate Ryan: “We need to build off of this…As a team, we need to be stronger together.”
Sep 1, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
NASCAR AMERICA’S Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman believe that the three-time Sprint Cup champion handled himself well throughout a difficult weekend.
Sep 1, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
Organizers of the Russian Grand Prix appear to be getting behind their countryman as F1’s first visit to Sochi draws closer.
Sep 1, 2014, 6:35 PM EDT
Richie Crampton, Alexis DeJoria, Shane Gray and Eddie Krawiec captured U.S. Nationals wins on Monday.
Sep 1, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Coming up today: Highlights from Kasey Kahne’s clutch Atlanta win; assessing Tony Stewart’s comeback; the Chase outlook with one regular season race left; more problems in pits for Kevin Harvick.
Sep 1, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
Writer’s Note: The following is a recap of this weekend’s TORC: The Off-Road Championship season finale at Crandon, Wisconsin. NBCSN will air the races this Saturday, Sept. 6, at 3:30 p.m. ET. If you don’t want to know who won until then, we suggest you find another post to read here on MotorSportsTalk…
Sep 1, 2014, 3:11 PM EDT
For Clint Bowyer and Kyle Larson, winning on Saturday night will be all that matters if they want a spot in the Chase.
Sep 1, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing end as the top single-car teams in 2014, before merging in 2015.
Sep 1, 2014, 1:38 PM EDT
Kasey Kahne saves his season in Atlanta, while Will Power changes his career in Fontana.
Sep 1, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Carlos Munoz takes home the top rookie honors after a successful first full season in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Sep 1, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT
Honda’s motorsport chief provides an update on the company’s F1 engine progress.
Sep 1, 2014, 10:27 AM EDT
IndyCar championship banquet goes off quickly, smoothly with a good bit of humor.
Sep 1, 2014, 1:25 AM EDT
The result beats her previous high water mark of seventh this past May at Kansas.
Sep 1, 2014, 1:10 AM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. — It was a rough night for a number of drivers in Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta, including Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Marcos Ambrose.
Sep 1, 2014, 12:43 AM EDT
Matt Kenseth enters the post-season with a second place result, while Clint Bowyer finds himself outside the Chase Grid going into next Saturday’s regular season finale.
Sep 1, 2014, 12:14 AM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. – Kasey Kahne’s 17th career Sprint Cup win couldn’t have been any larger.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:07 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. – It was not the comeback that Tony Stewart had hoped for.
Aug 31, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT
Tony Stewart’s return to competition tonight at Atlanta Motor Speedway has encountered some trouble after a restart run-in with “Rowdy.”
Video from NASCAR America
- Cindric proposes IndyCar champion Will Power will run No. 1 in 2015 0
- NASCAR AMERICA: Assessing Tony Stewart’s return at Atlanta (VIDEO) 1
- Feelin’ free: Frustrations end for Chase-bound Kahne, IndyCar champ Power 2
- Honda preps for first simulations, expresses confidence it can match Mercedes 4
- Kenseth clinches Chase berth; Bowyer falls out of Grid with one race to go 1
- Kasey Kahne rallies in last 2 laps to win at Atlanta, makes Chase 1
- Tony Stewart’s comeback hopes end with rough 41st-place finish at Atlanta 2