Getty Images

Xfinity Series Spotlight: Ben Kennedy, the racer in the France family

Leave a comment

Until his racing career’s late start at 13, Ben Kennedy had a “normal childhood.”

He went to grade school, played multiple sports and even attended soccer camp.

“Hanging out and making friends and just being a kid,” Kennedy told NBC Sports. “That was something that kind of stuck out in my mind that I’m thankful for.”

Then there was the family business.

Ben Kennedy will be one of the drivers who pilots the No. 2 Chevrolet this year. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Kennedy has vague memories. Attending the Daytona 500, meeting his favorite driver Jeff Gordon at the age of 3 and the annual visits to the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City.

As the grandson of former NASCAR CEO Bill France Jr., Kennedy got plenty of opportunities to see the “moving circus” up close and personal.

“I think it took awhile to understand the scope of it and the roles my family has played both on the NASCAR and ISC side,” Kennedy said. “I understood my mom (Lesa France Kennedy) was involved in the tracks (as CEO of ISC) and my family was involved in NASCAR. It was awhile before I really grasped it completely, and I still don’t completely understand all the ins and outs of this sport. Maybe never will. It’s a cool sport. It amazes me everyday how complex it is and how many different facets there are between NASCAR and the tracks, the teams, the drivers, the partners, everybody involved. It’s so diverse.”

Now, at 25, he’s one of the moving circus’ performers.

Nearly a year ago, Kennedy became the first member of the France family to win a national NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway in the Truck Series. Last week at Talladega, he made his first start of the year in the Xfinity Series, driving for Richard Childress Racing. He finished fourth. He will split the season between RCR and GMS Racing in the No. 96 Chevrolet.

That’s in addition to his ownership of a part-time K&N Pro Series East team.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: In the seven months you were out of a car, how did you keep busy? What was a day in the life of Ben Kennedy?

Kennedy: It’s been really hectic for me. … Just staying as fit as possible. Staying healthy and training as much as I can to be ready for the season. Got some other stuff I’ve been working on with not only putting these Xfinity races together and finding partners. I’ve also got a K&N team down in Daytona. I’ve been managing that and been pretty involved with that this year. Also, random stuff, did “American Ninja Warrior” about a month ago. Just kind of all over the map.

NBC Sports: How did American Ninja Warrior come about?

Kennedy: Such a cool experience. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to train for it. Those guys that you’re going up against, they train for years and months on end. I didn’t have much time. Upper body is probably my weakness on this side of athleticism. I trained my tail off for it. I was sick the entire time training. It’s wild to get up there in front of all the bright lights and cameras and all that stuff. When you watch on TV from the couch and in the AC it’s a completely different experience then being out there in the elements.

(Writer’s note: Kennedy’s episode of airs on June 26 on the USA Network)

NBC Sports: In a couple of months we’ll be coming up on a year since you won at Bristol. Where’s that trophy located now?

Kennedy: It’s at my apartment in North Caroline right now. I got it up there, the Bristol trophy, along with the … flag from when I had team and family members sign at a celebration party after. I got it in a good spot in my place.

NBC Sports: How much space does it take up, because it looked like a pretty big trophy.

Kennedy: It takes up the floor. I tried to find counter space to put it on. Nothing really made sense and my girlfriend wasn’t really crazy about it. It’s on the floor right now.

NBC Sports: When you did the NASCAR on NBC podcast last year, you said that you really liked that you went to a college (University of Florida) where no one really knew who you were or who your family was. When that would eventually come up, how’d you address that ‘yeah, my family founded NASCAR?’

Kennedy: I never went out and said it. I never said I was a driver or anything. Any of that stuff. Naturally, it does come out. People Google you or Wikipedia or something. They find that out. Some people understood I was a driver, some people understood I was a driver and my family was involved in NASCAR. You’ve got to kind of embrace it and be a part of it. Your family is something you should definitely be proud of. At the same time be very cautious and know who your friends are. It’s kind of a double-edged sword in some ways. Nonetheless, they’re family to me. That’s all I know.

Ben Kennedy drives GMS Racing’s No. 96 Chevrolet during a May test at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo by Daniel McFadin)

NBC Sports: Do you remember the first time you saw or name or face on merchandise?

Kennedy: Gosh, it was probably a long time ago. I remember we made these hats that had my number on it a long time ago. It wasn’t really merchandise. I think my first shirt, and I’ve still got it somewhere, it was a Hanes shirt like you’d buy at Wal-Mart and a friend of mine embroidered Kennedy on it, put my No. 96 on it. It’s very retro and one of a kind.

NBC Sports: What’s your attachment to the No. 96?

Kennedy: I don’t know. It’s kind of been a number that I started with in go-karts. I kind of forget how I ended up with it. I think it’s one of those things where you have to pick a number but you have to pick a number no one else has so far. Ninety-six was one that was available. It’s one that stuck ever since.

NBC Sports: What’s on your bucket list that’s not related to racing?

Kennedy: I’m kind of an outdoor, action-adventure junkie. I think traveling the world is pretty cool. Obviously, something I want to do is go skydiving. That’s on my list. I went bungee jumping one time, which was incredible.

NBC Sports: Speaking of traveling the world, you won a race in Paris, France a few years ago (in 2012, the first oval race in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series history at Tours Speedway). What was that experience like?

Kennedy: That was awesome. It was neat because they set it up in a parking lot outside this convention center. You go Turn 1 and 2 and it’d be kind of smooth, then you’d go through Turns 3 and 4 and you’d hit a gutter. Pretty soon, all four tires are off the ground. It was the first year that they did it, but it was so neat because they did it parallel to a motorcycle convention that was out there at the time and I had never seen so many American flags in one place in my life and I thought that was really cool. …

The race itself was really fascinating because those cars are very spaced out, everything is very similar from car to car. Kind of a bit of a learning curve for me. The team I was working with didn’t speak great English. That was a little bit of a challenge. I remember in practice, I came in and I told them what was wrong with the car and what I wanted to adjust. They’re like, ‘ok, that’s fine. Go back out and practice. We can’t make any changes here, we don’t want to make any changes here.’ So, alright.

During the race, I actually got carbon monoxide poisoning. The crash panels were a little bit open between that and the body. I was sucking in fumes the entire race. There was a caution with like five to go or something, they were doing their first ever green-white-checkered there and they were trying to figure it out. … The pace car was going like 10 mph, I’m sucking up fumes. I almost passed out. I got out of the car. I was beat red in the face. The guy that was interviewing me asked me, ‘You must be working out hard out there.’ I said ‘I feel like I’m going to hurl right now, too.’ I did that.

Then I leaned over the side of the car and just caught my breath for a while and then did all the celebrations after that.

NBC Sports: If you were competing in a Cup race at Bristol, what would you choose as your intro song?

Kennedy: Oh, that’s a good question. I don’t even know. Something cool. … Like Kings of Leon, something like that … What’s that one song, I don’t even know if it’s Kings of Leon, but “Centuries”?

NBC Sports: That’s Fall Out Boy.

 

Previous Xfinity spotlights

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

Brandon Jones

Daniel Hemric

William Byron

Spencer Gallagher

Cole Custer

Ross Chastain

Elliott Sadler

 and on Facebook

Daytona road course trophy: Handle with care

Leave a comment

A word of warning for the Cup Series driver who wins Sunday’s inaugural race on the Daytona road course (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

When you’re celebrating the victory, don’t get too excited with the trophy.

It could wind up all over Victory Lane.

That’s because the trophy waiting at the end of the 65-lap/234.65-mile-race is made out of glass.

More: Will chaos (and rain) reign on the Daytona road course?

Via: NASCAR

The 18” tall/4.5” wide trophy for the Daytona road course race was produced by the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York. It’s the same institution that’s been responsible for designing the Watkins Glen International trophy since 2012.

Sunday’s race is being held in the place of the Cup Series’ annual visit to Watkins Glen.

Incorporating a blown glass cup, the trophy is inspired by the history of NASCAR and racing at Daytona.

“Thinking about the history of the track and long-held traditions, I was reminded that historically, trophies used to be cups and have evolved into sculptural forms,” said Eric Meek, Sr. Manager of Hot Glass Programs at The Corning Museum of Glass, said in a media release. “We took this trophy back to a more traditional shape. Daytona is the most historical track, and in thinking about a trophy design for a race held in this storied location, I was transported back to the golden age of speed. I wanted to design something that felt like a bit of a throwback – like it belonged in the era of streamline racers and the quest to go faster.”

NASCAR Pinty’s Series 2020 TV schedule released

Leave a comment

The NASCAR Pinty’s Series, which competes in Canada, will get its season under way this weekend after it was postponed back in April due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The shortened season will consist of three doubleheaders with twin 125-mile races.

The races will be held at Sunset Speedway (Aug. 15), Flamboro Speedway (Aug. 29) and Jukasa Speedway (Sept. 12).

More: Xfinity Series start time for Daytona road course

No NASCAR Pinty’s Series champion or Rookie of the Year will be crowned in 2020 due to the shortened schedule. There will be special recognition for the overall winner of the shortened season.

All races will air delayed on TSN and RDS in Canada and MAVTV in the United States. Fans in the United States can stream races after they air on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.

Here is the full schedule with TV information.

 

Saturday’s Xfinity race at Daytona road course: Start time, forecast and more

Leave a comment

Saturday’s Xfinity race at Daytona will mark the first time the series has competed in the track’s road course circuit.

Austin Cindric, who has won four of the last five races, is on the pole. He is joined on the front row by fellow Ford driver Chase Briscoe.

Here are the details for the Xfinity race at the Daytona road course (all times ET):

START: The command to start engines will be given at 3:07 p.m by Dr. Jeff Jarvis, president of UNOH. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:19 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 8:30 a.m. Drivers report to their cars at 2:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 3 p.m. by Chaplain Farzad Nourian. The national anthem will be performed at 3:01 p.m. by Temecula Road.

DISTANCE: The race is 52 laps (187.72 miles) around the 3.61-mile road course

PACE LAP: At the direction of race control, the entire field will go down pit road during a pace lap for pit road speed verification. If a driver stops in the pit box for any reason, pulls over or slows down, they will start at the rear of the field.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 15. Stage 2 ends on Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Its coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. with Countdown to Green followed by the race broadcast at 3 p.m. ET. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast will begin at 2:30 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for cloudy skies, a high of 88 degrees and a 70% chance of rain and thunderstorms at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Austin Cindric beat AJ Allmendinger and Chase Briscoe to win at Road America.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for Xfinity starting lineup

Justin Marks planning to start new Cup team

Leave a comment

Former NASCAR driver Justin Marks is in the process of starting a new Cup Series team and competing as early as 2021, Marks detailed to the Sports Business Journal.

Marks, who has 80 NASCAR starts and last competed in 2018, is building a team called Trackhouse that would have a “cause-marketing focus around promoting STEM education” according to SBJ.

More: Bubba Wallace lands multi-year deal with DoorDash

Marks, who once was a co-owner of an ARCA Menards West team with the late Harry Scott, said a goal of the team is to “serve America’s minorities and underrepresented youth population”

Marks told SBJ he is in negotiations to acquire a charter for the team, that his family foundation will use investment capital to fund 50% of the team’s budget and that a “nationwide family entertainment business” will be a sponsor.

One of Marks’ partners will be Ty Norris, a former executive at Michael Waltrip Racing.

Click here for more from Sports Business Journal.