Although he comes from the most influential family in American motorsports, Ben Kennedy will be on his own tonight at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Kennedy, the son of International Speedway Chairman Lesa Kennedy and the nephew of NASCAR Chairman Brian France, will make his Camping World Truck Series debut in the UNOH 200.
While members of his family will be in attendance to cheer him on, Kennedy’s concentration is on the No. 96 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet.
“The family is still there, 100 percent behind me,” said Kennedy, a two-time winner in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series this season. “It’s something really cool, really special to all of us. They mean the world to me, but I’m focused on racing, focused on the car on what I can do better, how I can do it better, to give better feedback. That communication, that back-and-forth exchange makes such a big difference.”
Kennedy, 21, will have veteran crew chief Chris Carrier on his pit box at Bristol. Carrier, a Bristol native, has been crew chief for 329 races in NASCAR’s three major series.
It is welcome addition for Kennedy, who does have some experience at “World’s Fastest Half-Mile.”
He finished sixth in the 2012 K&N race at Bristol, and was 10th in March. Still, there are some big adjustments with a different kind of vehicle and a different kind of tire.
“For me being on the radial tire, messing with air will be a big change,” he said. “I’m used to K&N cars which have bias-ply tires. The trucks are more sensitive to the wheel input you put into it. That’s something I’ll eventually train myself to do, but now I’m still getting used to it. It’s just a matter of getting comfortable and getting up to speed.”
He also used an IRacing simulator before a recent Bristol test, but said there’s nothing like the seat-of-the-pants feel, the sliding around. Although some comment on the concrete being more consistent than asphalt, Kennedy said every time he comes here, it feels like a different track.
“You never know what to expect with Bristol,” he said. “We ran here the first year before they knocked down the transition and you could run up by the wall. Now that they’ve ground it down, it’s different, especially since there’s not a ton of rubber laid down when we race. But, there is enough to move up and try different grooves.”
His family has put forth some opportunities which Kennedy has used in his racing career. His great-uncle, Jim France, helped his K&N team set up shop in Daytona as a “brother” team to a Grand-Am Daytona Prototype team. Since then, Jim France has become a big supporter and attended several of his races.
Kennedy, who won the first ever NASCAR oval race in Europe in 2012, is one of 12 drivers participating in the NASCAR Next program, an initiative to help spotlight the sport’s rising stars. He explained how the program helps drivers with their off-track duties.
“We’re doing the whole NASCAR Next program and that’s helped a ton,” Kennedy said. “That whole program gets you the media exposure and really helps you get up to the next level, to get sponsors and do all that fun stuff.”