The K&N driver will make several Truck starts and finish college
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Ben Kennedy's path up the NASCAR ladder could have begun with a several-rung head start. Instead, it got going at the ground level, maybe lower.
It's all made him more familiar than most drivers with the ins and outs of Daytona International Speedway, on and off the track.
One by one, Kennedy rattled off the odd jobs he'd done around the 2.5-mile facility: painting signs, grilling hot dogs, parking cars and cleaning trash cans. He also has experience milling about the grounds in a sewage truck.
Come Tuesday night, he'll be here wheeling something significantly faster. Not too long after that, he'll be making his debut in a NASCAR national series.
"It's going to be really cool that I've been around this track for gosh, 21 years now, have been to every Daytona 500, and it'd be cool to actually be on the race track," Kennedy said Thursday at NASCAR Media Day Fueled by Sunoco. "I've been around it so much, but I've never actually been on it with a race car."
Kennedy, 21, will kick off his third season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East in the UNOH Battle at the Beach, hoping to qualify for the invitational race on Daytona's backstretch. The combined event for the east and west tours will feature a gauntlet of heats and potential last-chance races on the .4-mile layout to determine the 34-car field for the feature, which will be aired live on SPEED Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. ET.
Kennedy's plans beyond this week came into clearer focus Monday morning, when he announced that he'll drive in at least three NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races for Turner Scott Motorsports this season, starting Aug. 21 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The schedule calls for stops at Iowa Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway with other races as sponsorship allows.
"I had the opportunity to test with Turner Scott Motorsports in December at New Smyrna Speedway and hit it off with the crew and drivers very quickly," Kennedy said in a release. "I’m looking forward to learning from the current series champion James Buescher and greatly appreciate this opportunity."
Before making that leap, he'll get the chance to race at the track he calls home. Daytona has special meaning for Kennedy, who carries a racing pedigree rich in the roots of stock-car racing. Kennedy is the son of Lesa France Kennedy, CEO of International Speedway Corporation, and grandson of former NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr., but he hasn't let his family name keep him from paying his dues with dirty work around the track.
"It's always been sort of the family tradition," Kennedy said. "That's what my mom did when she was out selling tickets when she was 16. They sort of wanted me to get a feel for everything behind it, which was a great experience, of course."
"It's always been sort of the family tradition."
-- Ben Kennedy on doing odd jobs around Daytona Beach
That background has helped Kennedy become an expert at multitasking, a necessity given his dual objectives this year. As Kennedy marks his third season in the K&N series, he's also in the midst of his third year at the University of Florida, where he's a sports management major.
By his best estimate, Kennedy says he'll likely make five commutes between Gainesville and Daytona Beach -- a four-hour round trip -- to fulfill both obligations. He won't miss any classes, having cleared his schedule of Tuesday and Thursday lectures this semester.
"I sort of balance it by doing as much as I can when I'm traveling," Kennedy said. "Of course, when I'm at school, I try to knock everything out and and then when I'm at the race track, try to put 110 percent focus into the car and what I can do better that day."
The focus has helped Kennedy make steady gains in two short years. He went from claiming a single top-10 finish in 2011's 12-race slate to nine top 10s in 14 races last season, including his first pole. Additionally, Kennedy found a confidence boost in winning a Euro-Racecar event in Tours, France, claiming the first NASCAR-sanctioned oval track race in Europe.
Despite the opportunity with Turner Scott Motorsports and the methodical strides he's made in racing, Kennedy has managed to temper expectations with a healthy dose of perspective. That's why he's continuing to pursue his degree with a goal of graduating in December.
"Of course, racing is definitely very tough to make it to the top especially if you're talking about the Sprint Cup level," Kennedy said. "Just sort of keeping my doors open and having different options there in case the racing doesn't work out. I figure, knock it out these four years -- I still have a couple more months left (this semester) -- and then really start focusing on my racing career. If not, I still have the experience that I had in college."
Two goals with two very different paces. Whichever direction his career arc swings, Kennedy knows he'll have chills Tuesday driving a race car -- and not a sewage truck -- on the historic track his great-grandfather built.
"It's a thrill because I've always sat here and am like, 'Oh, I'm never going to be out there. Not a chance,'" Kennedy said, "and now there's an actual opportunity."
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