VIDEO: Kennedy sit-down interview
When Ben Kennedy won the first time around in a NASCAR-sanctioned race, the victory came thousands of miles from his Florida home in Tours, France. When he snared the checkered flag again Saturday night, he didn't even have to leave the state.
Kennedy, the great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., was still beaming Monday just two days removed from his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series East triumph, even if he was a little under the weather. Now he's hoping it serves as a springboard to more -- both on the K&N tour and in the three-race stint he'll enjoy in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series later this season.
"I definitely think it's a source of motivation moving forward," Kennedy said Monday in NASCAR's weekly teleconference. "We've had our ups and downs, more downs than ups, I guess. But you know that's all part of racing and that's all part of the sport. This will definitely motivate all the guys and hopefully get us determined to go out there and win more of these races and eventually run for the championship at the end of the year."
The site of Kennedy's romp in the third K&N East race of the season made the victory that much more special. The junior at the University of Florida led practice, won the pole then led all 150 laps at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, about six hours east of his Daytona Beach home base.
The well-worn half-mile track with historic Sunshine State significance was a far cry from the temporary .4-mile oval in France, where Kennedy prevailed in the first NASCAR-sanctioned oval-track race in Europe in the summer of 2012. Saturday night, the backyard feel in celebrating with his crew hit home.
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"The Europe race was definitely something special," Kennedy said. "Having the first oval race in Europe, and sort of all the prestige behind it. And of course, NASCAR just sort of coming over there and putting their footprint down in that area. That was a really cool event. This one was really special with the team, because I had been around these guys for years. We've had guys that had just come on this year. We've had guys that have been around with me since I started my racing career. So it was really cool to sort of see our own team develop throughout the years and sort of finally come together and finally get out there and be able to get a pole and dominate the race. Just having everyone around me at that point was definitely something special."
The next special milestone on the horizon outside of K&N competition will come this August at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he'll make his truck series debut with Turner Scott Motorsports. He'll also drive for the team at Iowa and Homestead-Miami later in the season, hoping for the opportunity to move to the tailgate tour full-time in 2014.
In joining Turner Scott, Kennedy will work with the operation that won the truck series championship last year with James Buescher and the truck series' most recent race at Rockingham Speedway on Sunday with Kyle Larson. Although Larson said Monday he hasn't worked with Kennedy yet, he anticipated a smooth transition to NASCAR's national series level for the 21-year-old driver.
"He was always really smooth," said Larson, who competed against Kennedy on the way to the K&N East crown last season. "He's going to do great with Turner Scott and their trucks. Their trucks are really good, and I think he's really good. So I think it will mesh pretty good, and he should be running up front easily."
For Kennedy, the chance to join forces with such a prominent team in the Nationwide and truck series was worth jumping at. Just as he grabbed his first glimpse at victory in a NASCAR regional touring series, he also savored a sneak peak at what could be bigger and better things.
"I'm really excited to get out there and race," Kennedy said. "We tested in New Smyrna (Speedway in Florida) in a truck in probably mid?December of last year, and really cool to be around the guys. Great bunch of people. I know they have awesome equipment and I'm looking forward to Bristol."
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