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Taking the next step up: Ben Kennedy to make Xfinity Series debut today in Iowa

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Ben Kennedy will take the next step in his racing career on Sunday, making his first career start in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in the American Ethanol E15 250 at Iowa Speedway.

While Kennedy has 58 starts in the Camping World Truck Series under his belt – including a seventh-place finish in Saturday night’s Speediatrics 200 at Iowa – this will be his first go-round in the Xfinity Series.

Kennedy will be driving the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Ruud Chevrolet in the Xfinity event.

And while this is his Xfinity debut, Kennedy has looked like a series veteran thus far at Iowa. He led both practices Friday, and qualified sixth in Saturday’s qualifying session.

“Yeah, I’m pretty comfortable with it,” Kennedy said of his quick acclimation to an Xfinity car. “I kind of compare it to a K&N car in a way, just because you don’t have the downforce and side force that the trucks have. They drive so differently.

“My biggest difficulty wasn’t so much getting in an Xfinity car, but going from an Xfinity car to a Truck. It was just kind of a challenge for me, realizing how much deeper you have to drive into the corners and how much you have to tag it. I think we have a real good car and truck for this weekend and I’m looking forward to it.”

Kennedy, the grandson of late NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr., and the son of International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa France Kennedy, has high hopes for his inaugural Xfinity race.

“I’d be happy with a top-10 finish,” Kennedy said. “I’m not trying to do anything crazy here, obviously, but I’m going to give it 100 percent and I gave the guys 100 percent (Friday) in practice. It’s great to work with (crew chief) Danny Stockman and the entire team.

“This is an awesome opportunity for me with Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet and Ruud being on board. It’s a real fast car and I’m honored to be here. I’ve sat in an Xfinity car in the shop, but just to be able to have that experience with a very good team and fast cars is just a big honor for me.”

Kennedy has been a fast learner in an Xfinity car. Not only has he driven it like a veteran thus far this weekend, he has a mindset and strategy akin to a veteran, as well.

“You just have to attack the corners differently with a different mindset,” he said. “I got used to the Xfinity car pretty quick, I felt like. You just don’t have the sideforce to lean on (like a truck), so you’ve got to close up your entries and exits and drive a little bit straighter and the bumps are a little bit different seeing how the package underneath is (different between a Truck and Xfinity ride).

“I think once we get racing and everything and get acclimated, we’ll be fine. We did a 20-lap run in the Xfinity car (on Friday) and I learned more than I’ve learned in a long time just in that 20-lap run about different things and tools I can use inside the car and during the race as far as line, momentum and whatnot.

“As much different as they are, you still have to use the same principles as far as going between the Truck and Xfinity car, just seizing the momentum as much as possible. Sure, they have a lot of power, but at the same time you also have to keep that momentum going – and I think that’s what I learned quite a bit (Friday).”

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Austin Theriault not medically cleared by NASCAR to race at Kansas

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Austin Theriault announced Thursday morning he has not been medically cleared by NASCAR to compete in this weekend’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway after his involvement in a wreck in Monday’s race at Talladega.

Theriault, 25, competes for Rick Ware Racing and was set to drive its No. 52 Chevrolet this weekend. Theriault said Garrett Smithley will take his place.

A NASCAR spokesperson said its policy is to not discuss a competitor’s medical information.

A spokesperson for Rick Ware Racing told NBC Sports all info on Theriault would be released by the driver on social media or by NASCAR. The team said “we expect to have Austin back in the car very soon.”

The native of Fort Kent, Maine, has missed races due to medical issues before.

In 2015, while racing part-time for Brad Keselowski Racing in the Truck Series, he suffered a 10% compression fracture in his back in a wreck at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after his HANS device broke.

Theriault missed several races before returning in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Since 2015 he has made five Cup starts, three Xfinity starts and four Truck Series starts.

Updated entry lists for Kansas Speedway’s playoff weekend

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The NASCAR playoffs continue this weekend with the second visit of the year to Kansas Speedway.

The Cup Series holds its second elimination race as the playoff field will be cut to eight drivers.

After a week off, the Xfinity Series will open its second playoff round.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for both races.

Cup – Hollywood Casino 400 (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

There are 40 cars entered.

Parker Kligerman is entered in Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 Toyota.

Reed Sorenson is listed for Premium Motorsports’ No. 27 Chevrolet.

Austin Theriault  was originally entered in Rick Ware Racing’s No. 52 car. Theriault announced Thursday morning he had not been cleared by NASCAR to compete Saturday following his wreck in Monday’s Cup race at Talladega and that Garrett Smithley would take his place.

Chase Elliott won this race last year over Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson. Brad Keselowski won the May race over Alex Bowman and Erik Jones.

Click here for the updated entry list.

Xfinity – Kansas Lottery 300 (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC)

There are 39 entries.

Ryan Truex is entered in JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet.

Ross Chastain is entered in Kaulig Racing’s No. 10 Chevrolet. It’ll be his fifth start with the team this season.

Harrison Burton is entered in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota for the seventh time this season.

Bobby Earnhardt, the oldest son of Kerry Earnhardt, is entered in MBM Motorsports’ No. 66 Toyota. It will be his fifth career start and first since the Texas playoff race last year.

Joe Nemechek is now entered in Mike Harmon Racing’s No. 74 Chevrolet

Dillon Bassett is now entered in DGM Racing’s No. 92 Chevrolet

John Hunter Nemechek won this race last year over Daniel Hemric and Elliott Sadler.

Click here for the entry list.

 

Harrison Burton to drive Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Xfinity car full-time next year

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Harrison Burton will drive Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Xfinity car full-time in 2020, the team announced Thursday morning.

Burton, the son of NBC Sports analysts Jeff Burton, will succeed Christopher Bell in the No. 20.

Burton competes full-time in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports. He is set to make his seventh start in JGR’s No. 18 Xfinity car this Saturday at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

“Next year is going to be a really cool opportunity for me because I grew up watching my dad race in the Xfinity Series, Burton said in a press release. “Making my first start at Bristol this year was really surreal. I remember being a little kid and watching (Jeff Burton) race there and now, I will have the opportunity to compete for the Xfinity Series championship next year.

“On top of that I’ve got Dex Imaging continuing their support of me for a majority of races next season. That’s really cool because I’ve had them as a sponsor since I was 13 and to bring them from pro-late models all the way to the Xfinity Series is pretty wild. I want to finish this season strong, but I’m excited to get 2020 started. My time with JGR this season will really help me because I’ve already gotten to know so many people there and it’s such a great team and organization. They have a long history of helping to develop drivers and this is big for the next step in my career.”

In his six Xfinity starts, Burton has three top 10s and a best finish of fourth at Iowa Speedway.

In 35 Truck Series starts since 2016, Burton has 11 top fives and 17 top-10 finishes. This year he has seven top fives and 10 top 10s. He and teammate Todd Gilliland both failed to make the playoffs.

“As Harrison (Burton) moves up to the next level of his career, we’re happy to have him join JGR fulltime and go behind the wheel of the No. 20 Supra,” said Steve DeSouza, Executive Vice President of Xfinity Series and Development for Joe Gibbs Racing in a press release. “Harrison has continued to show progress this season in his limited starts and I know that will only continue to develop with more seat time while contending for the Xfinity Series championship.”

The crew chief for the No. 20 will be announced at a later time.

JTG Daugherty Racing’s No. 47 hauler experiences fire on way to Kansas

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JTG Daugherty Racing announced on social media Thursday morning that the hauler for Ryan Preece‘s No. 47 Chevrolet experienced a fire on its way to Kansas Speedway for this weekend’s Cup race.

In a statement, team owner Tad Geschickter said both its hauler drivers were “okay.”

He said the team is “assessing the damage to our trailer and race cars and will have more information as it becomes available.”

More: Kaulig Racing hauler involved in accident on way to Kansas