DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The historical significance of Ben Kennedy racing around the high banks of Daytona International Speedway on Monday could not be overlooked. After all, he was testing on the track that his great-grandfather Bill France Sr. and grandfather Bill France Jr. built between 1957-59, in many cases, with their bare hands. But for Kennedy it was just another day at another speedway doing what he loves, taking everything in stride.
For instance, consider last year another driver might have taken time to celebrate a career-first top-five finish in one of NASCAR’s top three touring series. Not Kennedy.
After placing fourth Oct. 26 at Martinsville last year in his fourth start in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Kennedy flew back to his native Florida to compete in a local short-track race at New Smyrna Speedway.
“It was a marathon of a day, and it was a ton of fun,” Kennedy, 22, said during a lunch break in truck series testing Monday at Daytona International Speedway.
That hectic day, however, stands in sharp contrast to Kennedy’s sensible, patient approach to his career trajectory. A scion of NASCAR’s first family might be tempted to attempt too much too soon. Again, not Kennedy.
The son of Lesa France Kennedy and the late Dr. Bruce Kennedy has spent the last three seasons in the NASCAR K&N Pro East Series as he completes his college education. Kennedy will graduate from the University of Florida in May with a degree in sports management and a minor in business.
Now he’s ready for the next step, a full-time truck series ride in the No. 31 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet.
“I think you need to be patient in this sport,” Kennedy said. “If you take two steps ahead when you’re ready to take one step, you may put yourself in a bad situation, and you may end up three steps behind. I want to make sure I take the right steps and get the right amount of learning as fast as I can. I’m learning a ton this week from every lap I’m taking at Daytona.”
Just because Kennedy is committed to a methodical career path doesn’t mean he’s not a quick study. Drafting with teammate Jeb Burton, Kennedy posted Monday morning’s fastest speed (182.168 mph) during the opening test season for the Trucks.
“Jeb and I got hooked up there a couple of times, trying some different things, trying to learn as much as possible and just picking up on this whole drafting thing,” said Kennedy, who was testing at his home track for the first time.
Literally and figurative, Kennedy grew up in the shadow of the speedway.
“It’s always been home for me,” he said. “I was born and raised about 10 minutes from here — a 10-minute drive. I’ve always been around the Daytona area. I’ve been to every Daytona 500 and Nationwide race and Truck race since I can remember.
“I think actually being able to take the green flag, coming up in race week, will be pretty awesome.”
When Kennedy has technical questions about racing or questions about his career, he often seeks the counsel of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Carl Edwards, who is a close family friend.
“(Carl) would come over in his tractor trailer unannounced sometimes to our house when he was running the weekly series,” Kennedy said. “We’ve known him since he ran the weekly series and then all through the truck and Nationwide and Cup and everything.
“To see him progress sort of gives you a little bit of motivation, hearing his stories and everything. He’s been someone that I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to go to and ask for advice.”
To a great degree, though, Kennedy keeps his own counsel, and he tries not to let his family heritage intrude into competition on the track.
“I’m trying to keep as much pressure off of me as I can, really focus on what I need to when I’m at the race track and focus on some other stuff maybe when I’m away from the race track,” he explained. “Once I get school figured out and everything, I’ll be able to focus 110 percent on my career.
“I’m trying to let the pressure sort of stay at the side and learn at the pace that I need to and not overexert myself and push myself past where I need to be and put myself in a bad situation.”