Ben Kennedy finds his stride in Truck Series
March 28, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
Rookie finished fourth at Martinsville in fourth career NCWTS start last October
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MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- The season-opening NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race provided another in aseries of learning experiences for rookie driver Ben Kennedy. Now he's back at the site of one of his biggest positive lessons in his career.
Kennedy arrived at Martinsville Speedway on Friday hoping to build upon the personal-best fourth-place finish at the .526-mile track last October. He'll try to go one better (and then some) in Sunday's Kroger 250 (5:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1), the series' second race of the year.
Though he took to the historic, paper-clip layout quickly, it hasn't been because of any seamless transition from another track like it. Kennedy tested with his Turner Scott Motorsports team at Motor Mile Speedway in Dublin, Va., and he drew a faint comparison with Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., where he won in 2013 in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.
"As far as the racing action goes, it's kind of survival of the fittest and reminds me of Bowman Gray a little bit," said Kennedy, who was fifth and 15th in Friday's practice sessions at Martinsville. "As far as the actual track, I don't think you can experience much like it until you actually get here. ... Anything with getting track time, especially at a place we're going to race, is super-beneficial. I think we're pretty good today. I'm excited for it. We still have some stuff to work on. I don't think it's perfect, but we're making strides in the right direction, I feel like."
Kennedy has already found some stride just one race into the young season, having started from the pole position and leading a race-high 52 of 100 laps in the season-opening event at his hometown track, Daytona International Speedway. Though Kennedy was shuffled back to an eventual 15th-place finish, the dicing back in the pack gave him another tutorial about racing at restrictor-plate facilities.
He also got an opportunity to watch himself heading the field, catching a peripheral glance at a big-screen display on the apron out of the corner of his eye.
"It was pretty wild once you got back in the pack a bit," said Kennedy, whose No. 31 Chevrolet carries backing from the ALS Association this weekend, "but being up front, it's almost kind of quiet because everyone's behind you, no one's really saying much on the radio, you're just kind of focused on that yellow line and hugging the yellow line and keeping it wide open and not letting anyone get beneath you."
Though the Truck Series' schedule has significant layoffs spacing out the season's first three races, Kennedy has kept busy with his studies at the University of Florida. He's nearing the end of a 13-week internship program and is on pace to graduate before the series' next race weekend, May 9 at Kansas Speedway. He's also kept track of his racing team in the K&N Pro Series East and the budding career of his driver, NASCAR Next member Kenzie Ruston.
While he's also keeping one eye on his alma mater's exploits in the NCAA men's basketball championship, Kennedy is hoping to compartmentalize any madness that might come into play in Saturday's 250-lapper.
"Every race you come to, you want to win. We're definitely keeping championship points in the back of our head," Kennedy said. "Maybe we don't risk it as much as we did last year, just to sort of be conservative and make sure we make the right moves out on the race track, but also be aggressive and be smart with everything this year."