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Eliminations loom for Cup Playoff drivers at Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course
The Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course (ROVAL) is set to punctuate what has been a thrilling and unpredictable second round of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 (2 p.m. ET on NBC, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
This four-year-old race on the Charlotte Road Course, which incorporates portions of the track’s speedway high banks with a challenging infield layout, has produced big time action in settling who advances to the Playoffs' Round of 8.
And although Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott has won the last two races, the competition has always been intense and the outcome more dramatic than statistics could suggest.
Elliott took the win over Team Penske's Joey Logano by a healthy 3.895-seconds last year to earn his second win in three races at the Charlotte ROVAL.
The 2018 inaugural race winner, Ryan Blaney, is the only other current Playoff driver to finish among the top-five last October. He has two top-five and three top-10 finishes in three races and his 4.7 average finish at the ROVAL is second only to Elliott’s amazing 2.667 average finish.
Only three other Playoff drivers earned top-10 finishes last year – William Byron (sixth), Martin Truex Jr. (seventh) and Alex Bowman (eighth). Kevin Harvick was 11th and current championship leader Denny Hamlin, who has already advanced to the second round with a win at Las Vegas two weeks ago, was 15th in last year’s ROVAL race.
Even with a 22-point cushion on the cutoff line going into Sunday’s race, the Regular Season Champion Kyle Larson doesn’t necessarily feel fully secure in his standing.
He knows first-hand this race can produce drama. And that’s certainly been the vibe in the 2021 Playoffs with Bubba Wallace – a non-Playoff driver - earning his first series career victory last week in Talladega, Ala. and only five Playoff drivers ranking among the final top 10 in the rain-shortened race.
In 2018, Larson took a 20-point advantage into the ROVAL, won the first stage and led a race best 47 laps only to get caught up in a multi-car accident with six laps remaining. He trudged on to finish 25th, but the outcome put him in a three-way tie for the final two transfer positions. He ultimately moved on - only prevailing in a tiebreaker.
Larson’s current crew chief Cliff Daniels said he’s got the ROVAL notes from Elliott’s team and is hopeful that will help derail any ROVAL drama. Larson scored a dominating win at the Sonoma, Calif. road course this summer leading 57 of 92 laps and won at the Watkins Glen, N.Y. road course as well.
“We’ve run first and second a lot this year on road courses," Larson said of himself and Elliott. “That team and Chase set the bar. You pay attention to how he’s doing and where he’s running. It’s been fun to compete with him on the road courses and we both have a couple wins. Hopefully, we’re battling with all our teammates for stage wins and the victory this weekend."
Larson’s ROVAL luck is a precautionary tale that makes some drivers nervous but also energizes others.
Beyond Hamlin and Larson, Joey Logano is ranked third in the Playoff standings followed by his Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney, Hendrick’s Elliott and Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch round out the top-eight going into the ROVAL race.
Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick, the 2014 Cup Series champion, is ranked ninth, however, only nine-points back from Busch in the last transfer position. Gibbs’ driver Christopher Bell is 28 points behind his teammate Busch and Hendrick drivers William Byron (-44) and Alex Bowman (-52) round out the current Playoff field.
The top five average finishes at the track belong to Elliott (2.7), Blaney (4.7), Bowman (4.7), Logano (7.3), Harvick (7.7) and Byron (7.7). The list includes three of those drivers among the bottom four in the Playoff standings going into the race.
And Busch, who holds that slim nine-point advantage over Harvick, has an average finish of 33.3. His best career finish at the ROVAL is 30th.
Harvick’s 21 top-10 finishes through the opening 31 races in 2021 trails only championship leaders Hamlin and Larson, (who have 22 top 10s each). But the 2014 series champion is still looking for his first victory of the season. He’s won at least one race every year since 2010 and career-best nine last season.
“You dot the “I’s” and cross the “T’s” and really, that’s what it all comes down to," said Harvick, who drives the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. “We’ve lost a lot of races with fast cars and we’ve won some races with slow cars – you grind away and you just keep yourself in there and see where it all shakes out. Sometimes it’s in the car to win and sometimes it’s not, you just never know so you just grind away every lap."
Even though they are well back in the standings, Byron and Bowman arrive at the Charlotte track feeling optimistic. Byron, who is a Charlotte native, has two top-10 finishes in three ROVAL starts and is trying to advance to the Round of 8 for the first time in his four-year NASCAR Cup Series career.
Bowman has one of the best average finishes in the field – joining former winners Elliott and Blaney – as the only three drivers with an average finish below 5.0. Bowman may be the Playoff longshot trailing the cutline by 52 points going into the ROVAL race, but he has two top-five and three top-10 results in three races there. His eighth-place finish there last year was good enough to propel him into the Round of 8.
Three Hendrick drivers, Elliott (62), Larson (52) and the hometown favorite Byron (50) lead all drivers in Laps Led at the ROVAL.
“The good thing is that I have the same amount of experience there as most of the field since it’s a fairly new track," said Byron, 23, whose rookie NASCAR Cup Series season was also the first year the ROVAL was on the schedule.
“It’s difficult though because I feel like this is a race where there is always a lot more contact throughout the field and you can’t prepare for that other than to be ready for anything at the moment. We always have fast cars there though so we just need to go there and focus on getting the win. It’s going to be really difficult to worry about points, so a win is really all we’re worried about."
Xfinity Playoffs' Round of 12 to come to a close at Charlotte
And so the first elimination race of the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs comes down to a challenging road course with the defending series champion Austin Cindric back atop the standings and a pair of talented first cousins – Harrison and Jeb Burton - straddling the Playoff cutline.
The first two postseason Round of 12 races have been won by non-Playoff drivers, but there’s a good case to be made that unusual trend will not continue Saturday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course (ROVAL).
Regular Season Champion A.J. Allmendinger is the two-time defending winner of Saturday’s Drive For The Cure 250 presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (3 p.m. ET on NBC, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) and after a rare “early exit” and subsequent 39th-place finish at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway last weekend, he’s ready to finalize his move to the next round of Playoff competition with a third straight win at his forte of venues.
Allmendinger, 39, driver of the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet edged Noah Gragson by .446-seconds to win the 2020 version of the ROVAL race, but wasn’t competing for the championship a year ago. This weekend, there’s a lot more on the line for the five-time road course winner.
Allmendinger is really the only one in the series that has truly mastered the 2.280-mile course that incorporates both the speedway turns and an infield road course. The former NASCAR Cup Series and IndyCar driver certainly brings a strong skillset when it comes to left-and-right hand turns – already earning a win at Mid-Ohio, and runner-up finishes at Austin, Watkins Glen, N.Y. and Indianapolis this season. He was fourth at Elkhart Lake, Wisc.
The Team Penske driver Cindric, another five-time road course race winner, has a pair of third-place finishes and one sixth-place finish in his three Charlotte tries – leading only 13 laps in total (none in his sixth-place finish in 2020). This year, however, he’s finished top-three in three of the six previous road course events, with a victory at Indianapolis, a runner-up at Daytona RC and a third-place at Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Justin Allgaier, who drives the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet, is currently ranked second in the championship, 22 points behind Cindric. His best finish in three Charlotte tries is fourth (2019) and he’s never led a lap there.
Daniel Hemric, driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, is third in the championship with a pair of top five in the opening round of Playoff competition. His best work in two ROVAL Xfinity Series starts is third in 2020.
Last year’s ROVAL runner-up Gragson brings a legitimately optimistic outlook to the challenging Charlotte track. The driver of the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet has had top-10 runs in the last three road courses on the schedule, with a best of fifth at Indianapolis. In two ROVAL starts he has finished fifth (2019) and second (2020).
Easily the most dramatic aspect of this week’s race will be who transfers into the next round of the championship Playoffs. And after 29 races, the Burton family has found itself right in the middle of the who’s-in and who’s out.
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Harrison Burton, who turns 21 on race day, holds a slim eight-point advantage over his cousin Jeb Burton for the eighth and final Playoff transfer position.
Harrison Burton has earned five top-10 finishes in six road course races in 2021, but his best finish at the ROVAL in two starts is 13th in 2019. He suffered a mechanical DNF last Fall.
Jeb Burton, 29, has earned three top-10 finishes on road courses in his first fulltime season in the series, with a best showing of fifth-place in the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet at Daytona. This will be his ROVAL debut.
Just behind Jeb Burton in the standings is Myatt Snider, 26, who sits 24 points out and reiterated last week at Talladega that he will need to win at Charlotte this week to move on. Snider, who spent time competing on road courses in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series, has two Xfinity Series road course top 10s in his young career. A seventh-place at Indy this summer is his best.
The longshot this weekend is Jeremy Clements, who sits 12th out of the 12 Playoff drivers - 48 points below Harrison Burton on the cutoff. However, Clements is one of only four Xfinity Playoff drivers with a road course trophy at home. He scored a dramatic “underdog” win at Elkhart Lake, Wisc. in 2017.
Action Packed Weekend Set for 2nd Annual Shawn Balluzzo Memorial 100 at Larry King Law's Langley Speedway
The stage is finally set for the largest and richest Modified race of the season this weekend at Larry King Law’s Langley Speedway as more than twenty open wheel machines make their way to the famed .395-mile oval to pay tribute to the most decorated modified driver in track history.
For the second year in a row the Larry King Law Modified Division will wrap up their season with a 100-lap feature and a chance at over $2,000 in race winnings. However, one can argue that the plethora of bonus money that comes from this weekend – $2,048 to the winner, pole awards, specific finish order bonuses, and the introduction of the Balluzzo Challenge – everyone will be fighting for the unique trophy to honor the late great Balluzzo.
“It’s bitter sweet moments,” Terri Balluzzo said on planning this years event. “The reason why we are planning an event like this of course is still heartbreaking but watching the Modified community come together and wanting to run this race is what makes it all worth it. This has been a total family effort and we are honored that so many race teams will come to honor Shawn.”
Matt Carter undoubtedly enters the weekend the odds on favorite collecting ten wins throughout the 2021 campaign along with his first track championship. However, he will have to be on his games with drivers like Rick Gdovic and Chris Johnson who have all found Dale Lemonds Victory lane at some point in their career. Brad Adams will have momentum on his side as he will enter the weekend as the most recent division winner and has really come on strong towards the end of the season. T.J Largena is also a noteable name has the Newport News native and son in-law to Balluzzo will enter his machine in the race, this will be Largena's first trip to Langley Speedway to pay tribute to his father in-law.
The race will be on of the richest races the Modified division has seen to date with more than $15,000 on the line and the winner walking away with no less than $2,048. In addition to the race-winning purse, Asset Towing and Recovery has sponsored the $100 Pole Award to the faster qualifier. Daniel Balluzzo with East Coast Mechanical will be awarding $448 to the leader of the race on lap 48. Kenny Cain from A-Hampton Roads Plumbing will be awarding an additional $100 to those who finish third through twelfth. Gene and Robin Nichols – Balluzzo’s co-owner — from Gene Nichols Carburetors and Boutique A Yo-Yo will be awarding an additional $100 to the fourteenth, sixteenth, eighteenth, twentieth, and twenty-second place finishers.
Finally the Balluzzo family has offered up what has been coined “The Balluzzo Challenge.” A unique offer that truly embodies what Shawn Balluzzo was as a driver. If the two drivers who qualify on the front row think they have what it takes to take their machines to the rear of the field and take the green flag from there, and additional $500 will be awarded should they find victory lane at the end of the night.
“We really want to focus on growing this race,” Promotor and General Manager Vaughan Crittenden said. “We have the Hampton Heat for the Late Model guys and really think this race can grow into something just as big and for all of the right reasons. What better way to honor the legacy of Shawn’s life and career here than hosting what could be one of the largest Modified events of the year for this region. It is something that is very special for our Langley family and just proud to be apart of it all.”
Spectator gates will open at normal time this weekend at 2:00 PM EDT along with the start of controlled practice. Qualifying is scheduled to begin at 4:30 with green flag racing for a total of five divisions set for 7:00 PM.
Langley Speedway PR
NASCAR Drive for Diversity Awards Celebrate Diversity and Inclusion Champions Across the NASCAR Industry
In recognition of the individuals and organizations that have led with their efforts to advance diversity, equity and inclusion across the sport, NASCAR today announced the 2021 NASCAR Drive for Diversity Awards recipients during a special ceremony in Charlotte, N.C.
NASCAR executives, partners, drivers, crew members and other industry leaders were on hand for the 14th annual event held at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, as NASCAR presented awards to 12 recipients whose commitment to DE&I has contributed to a more diverse and inclusive sport.
“The substantial progress our sport has made with regard to diversity, equity and inclusion is a result of the collective work of many leaders within the NASCAR community who are driving us forward together,” said NASCAR President Steve Phelps. “These awards celebrate those whose passion and commitment are strengthening a NASCAR culture that is welcoming and inclusive of everyone that shares a love of racing.”
Winners were announced during the Thursday ceremony across 10 NASCAR Drive for Diversity Award categories and are as follows:
Crew Member Award: Brian Eastland
A 17-year NASCAR industry veteran, Brian Eastland is one of the earliest graduates of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Pit Crew Development Program and continues to mentor program participants and active NASCAR crew members today. A respected leader on pit road and in the garage, Eastland has performed every over-the-wall role during his lengthy career, including for NASCAR Cup Series teams such as Roush-Fenway Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing, and continues to pit in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Eastland holds degrees in both automotive and mechanical engineering from North Carolina State University.
Developmental Series Driver Award: Rajah Caruth and Toni Breidinger
Rajah Caruth is in his second season with the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Driver Development Program after becoming the first participant to successfully transition from competitive iRacing to real-life stockcar racing. After notching his first career late model win last season at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, Caruth this year won three additional races in the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series and progressed to fulltime racing in the ARCA Menards Series East. When he competes in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for Alpha Prime Racing in 2022, the Winston-Salem State University student will become the first Black driver from the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Program to compete in a national series event since Bubba Wallace.
In February, Toni Breidinger became the first Arab-American woman to compete in a NASCAR-sanctioned event when she took the green flag at the ARCA Menards Series race at Daytona International Speedway. Breidinger’s history-making journey in NASCAR was covered by national television programs – TODAY, Good Morning America and The Ellen DeGeneres Show – and her on-track schedule this season has also included late model racing and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Earlier this year, she introduced the first beauty brand to NASCAR through a driver sponsorship deal with the Arab-owned Huda Beauty.
Sam Belnavis Industry Ambassador Award: Bernard Pollard
Bernard Pollard developed an interest in NASCAR midway through 2020, when the industry and its competitors took a vocal stance against racism and social injustice. The former NFL safety, who played pro football for nine years and won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens, became a student of NASCAR and documented his journey as a new NASCAR fan on social media. Pollard’s genuine enthusiasm for the sport has inspired others to learn more about NASCAR racing and over the past year-plus, he has attended races, participated in iRacing events and served as an ambassador for Ally Financial and the company’s partnership with driver Alex Bowman and Hendrick Motorsports. The award was renamed in honor of motorsports pioneer Sam Belnavis, a trailblazer as a Black general manager and team owner in NASCAR. Belnavis passed away on July 14, 2021.
Institution Award: Boys & Girls Clubs of America
In April, Boys & Girls Clubs of America was announced as the Official Youth Community Partner of NASCAR and began working with the sanctioning body to plan both virtual and at-track experiences that will engage more than 4.6 million youth and teens across the country. The partnership focuses on three core areas – STEM education, career development and DE&I initiatives – and NASCAR activation planned for the Boys & Girls Clubs’ digital platform, MyFuture, will launch later this month. In addition to NASCAR, Boys & Girls Clubs of America have robust and impactful partnerships with numerous NASCAR industry stakeholders, including Comcast, FOX Sports and Coca-Cola.
National Series Driver Award: Bubba Wallace
After helping to lead the national conversation on race and social justice in 2020, Bubba Wallace has continued to advocate for change this season and has championed various diversity initiatives including McDonald’s Black & Positively Golden Mentors program. In his first year with Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin at 23XI Racing, Wallace became the second Black driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race when he claimed victory at Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 4, 2021. The journey of Wallace’s debut season as driver of the No. 23 Toyota Camry is being documented by Netflix in a new, multi-part series.
Outstanding Intern Award: Korn Supatrabutra and Iris Wright
Korn Supatrabutra and Iris Wright were participants in the 2021 NASCAR Drive for Diversity Internship Program and spent the summer as interns in the NASCAR Marketing department. After graduating from college, Supatrabutra followed his passion for research analytics and joined NASCAR’s Research & Insights team where he contributed to analyze data around diverse fan audiences and other consumer research projects. The Bangkok, Thailand native earned both a graduate degree in marketing research and bachelor’s degree in marketing from Michigan State University.
As part of NASCAR’s Multicultural & Youth Marketing team, Wright led initiatives to promote the recently launched NASCAR Kids Club and helped introduce the sanctioning body’s STEM-focused partnership with the National Science Teaching Association in August. The North Carolina State University senior also steered an intern-led fundraising case-study project for The NASCAR Foundation.
Partner Award: RISE
Partners with NASCAR since 2016, RISE is a national nonprofit organization focused on educating and empowering the sports community to eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice and improve race relations. When NASCAR announced in 2020 that diversity training will be a mandatory requirement for all drivers and team employees, RISE was engaged to administer racism, anti-racism and unconscious bias workshops and curriculum across the industry. By the start of the 2021 season, RISE and its training leads conducted more than 3,000 trainings across both NASCAR employees and industry personnel.
Team Award: Trackhouse Racing
Trackhouse Racing debuted in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2021 with Mexico native Daniel Suárez behind the wheel of the No. 99 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. The mission of team owner Justin Marks and partner Pitbull is to compete for wins and championships in the sport’s premier series – but also to promote diversity and inclusion and introduce new fans to NASCAR. Throughout the year, Pitbull and Suárez have engaged in various ways with the Hispanic community including visits with students at the tuition-free charter school SLAM! (Sports Leadership and Management Inc.), founded by the world-famous entertainer.
Track Award: Nashville Superspeedway
Nashville Superspeedway hosted its first NASCAR Cup Series race in 2021 and returned to the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedules in 2021. On June 19 – the day of the Xfinity Series race – the track hosted 120 alumni from Tennessee State University in recognition of the HBCU school’s Founders Day. Erik Moses, the first Black track president in NASCAR, and his staff also hosted 30 students from the Knowledge is Power Program of Nashville, a free college preparatory school for low-income communities on that same day. In the last year, the track also made financial contributions to improve its surrounding community. In collaboration with Ally Financial, Nashville Superspeedway contributed $25,000 to the Urban League of Middle Tennessee and $25,000 to Box 55, which supports first responders in Nashville.
Young Racer Award: Regina Sirvent
In 2021, Regina Sirvent graduated to fulltime racing in the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series in her second season with the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Driver Development Program. Last year, the Mexico native became the first female driver to win a race in the FB and BOHN Mikel’s Trucks presented by Sherwin-Williams at the Autódromo del Ecocentro de la Unión Ganadera. She is a vocal ambassador for both women and Hispanics in racing and uses her platform to encourage young girls to pursue their dreams and always “go for the cookies (the win).”
As NASCAR has announced bold new editions of the 2022 race schedules for its three premier series in the last few weeks, a fresh voice in leadership has essentially taken the corporate green flag - 29-year old Ben Kennedy. The great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. has been the “point man" on the schedule work, essentially the new look of the sport.
As with his mom, NASCAR executive Lesa France Kennedy, his uncle Brian, the sanctioning body’s former Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, his great-uncle Jim, current Chairman & CEO of NASCAR and his grandfather, the late Bill France Jr., Ben Kennedy has spent much of his life learning the ways of NASCAR and keeping it modern and relevant with the passing time.
His current position as Senior Vice President of Strategy and Innovation is a long way from the summers Kennedy spent as a teenager working humble jobs at Daytona International Speedway - as did his mom, uncles and granddad – collecting tickets, directing parking, and in Kennedy’s case, pulling shifts at the popular DAYTONA 500 Racing Experience – the attraction once called Daytona USA - just outside the Speedway entrance.
Not too long ago, Kennedy found his old nametag, still in his former locker at Daytona USA. It said simply, 'Ben.'
There was no hint of his family’s connection to the facility or of the future leadership position 'Ben' now holds shepherding the sport into the next decade.
“It’s neat to go back and see some of those things sometimes,” Kennedy said. “Obviously, growing up in Daytona and going to a bunch of the Daytona 500s and traveling to a lot to different tracks, it gave you so much respect for all the different individuals that work at each one of these tracks and within the industry.
“And then to be able to do the different odd jobs in high school during the summer and then come out there and work at the Daytona 500 Experience for a couple years, it was such a cool experience and I got to meet so many amazing individuals."
That genuineness coupled with a high-wattage vision and a lot of natural ambition has already earned Kennedy - who graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in Sports Management - much respect throughout the industry - from the executives he works alongside to the drivers and team owners who will ultimately rely on Kennedy’s judgement and care to keep propelling the sport forward.
For many, such as longtime championship team owner Richard Childress, seeing Kennedy now in a position of oversight, has been inevitable.
“I think Ben’s the future of NASCAR," Childress said. “I see him as a young Bill Junior. Bill Junior changed the sport and the same will happen with Ben Kennedy.
“I remember when Ben was born," Childress continued with a huge smile. “I said, “Bill, what are you going to have Ben call you? He said, ‘Mr. France.’
“But Ben is the future of NASCAR. I’m so proud of many things. He’s done so much behind the scenes people don’t even really know what all he’s done and accomplished. I’m so proud of him.”
The drivers, many of whom are of similar age to Kennedy, are quick to speak about the importance of having this new generation represented in NASCAR leadership. Not only is Kennedy willing to look at the sport through a different generational lens, but he has demonstrated the ability to try new things, such as adding new venues to the schedule or moving the Busch Clash race to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum next February for the first time in history.
“I feel like Ben’s been around enough and seen enough and obviously has great mentors he’s worked with, who have been around," said 31-year old Team Penske driver Joey Logano, the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series champion.
“He’s been around great people his whole life and been around the sport even more than me. I think it’s key to have someone like that in that position. I think you’ve seen that with the new schedule – that’s been a big piece on his plate, shuffling it up and trying new things.
“Going to the LA Coliseum, if you had told me that three years ago, I’d have said, ‘yeah okay, not a chance.’ But we’ve all learned this year that change is good for the sport. Look at all the new tracks we went to and what has happened. How many new people have come to these races? And going to new markets? You’ve got to switch it up and change it a little bit. So, I think he’s been around enough to have balance to know the historical race fan and also keep things appealing to the new race fan or non-race fan, yet.”
Drivers say that Kennedy stepping out of his NASCAR driver’s suit and into a three-piece suit is also an encouraging aspect of Kennedy’s background and make-up. He brings a different set of experiences to his new role off-track and into the boardroom.
In fact, not only did Kennedy compete fulltime in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for three years 2014-16, he won a race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and earned a spot in the series Playoffs in 2016.
In all, Kennedy had 10 top-five and 25 top-10 finishes in 73 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts. He also made 17 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts and in 2017, earning a top-five finish (fourth-place) at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, where NASCAR races this weekend.
And it is this kind of “in the trenches” background that Kennedy feels has already benefitted him.
“I feel like some of that experience as a team owner and driver side has helped me at least get a different perspective on what it’s like on a day-to-day basis to kind of live in these roles," said Kennedy, who also owned ARCA Menards Series and NASCAR late model teams.
“It’s one of the interesting parts of our business. We’re so complex and there are so many different parts of the company and the industry, whether you’re a team owner or a driver or on the NASCAR side or an official, a broadcast partner, an official partner. We all come to the track with a completely different experiences but at the end of the day, we all come together to put on a great race for our fans. I think that’s one of the really cool things about our sport. We all live completely different lives and completely different experiences, but we all have one goal at the end of the day and that’s to go racing- and for the team and drivers, to go out there and win.”
Certainly, the drivers appreciate that kind of mindset from leadership. One after another of the NASCAR Cup Series top drivers spoke about their respect for Kennedy who – unlike the previous generation of more business-oriented leaders - came up the competition ranks. It adds a different perspective.
“I think the cool thing, the biggest thing I respect about Ben in his time, and I think is something that sometimes gets overlooked, is that he spent time racing, going to these short track races across the country racing late models, racing other cars," said 25-year old reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott.
“He got into the Truck Series and raced a couple Xfinity races as well. I don’t know of any other, if there are, there are very few members of the leadership that have driven. So, I really appreciate that.
“I feel like he put in a lot of time and a lot of effort to try and make a driving career. I think you learn a lot of things that you would not typically see just by being on the leadership side. Being down there and being in the fight every week, kind of seeing things from a different angle, I think is going to make him a great leader."
Working alongside proven executives such as his uncle Jim France, NASCAR President Steve Phelps and NASCAR Executive Vice President, Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell has had a beneficial impact all the way around.
Kennedy’s “why-not-try” sort of philosophy working in conjunction with veteran leadership has been a welcome contribution from those he works with and those he’s working for.
“I think Ben is more connected with his generation and I think that benefits us," Phelps said. “But, for example, I think it’s less about his age as it relates to the LA Coliseum, for example, and more about his willingness to embrace change that is the most important thing.
“I actually think, it really is more how you process and think about our business. It’s not change for change-sake, but smart change - that kind of calculated risk, where the upside is significant and the downside is negated in whatever means we take.
“He has embraced the change mantra, whether you’re talking about next-gen schedule or Next Gen car, obviously Ben will be a next-gen leader of this sport.
“And I think we as a sport now, embody that and he listens and I think that’s really important for us to have someone who is a France family member who can look through his own lens and see what it means to be a family member but also what it’s like to be 29 years-old, what it’s like to understand we need to be aggressive in how we approach the growth of this sport. And I think Ben does that.”
As Phelps said, Kennedy’s exuberance and openness has been embraced. But Kennedy’s is also mindful of steering things in a thoughtful, calculated direction. He does a lot of listening.
“I think I naturally lean toward the innovative mindset and to think differently, but I think surrounding myself with a lot of peers that have a lot of experience and know the reasons for why we got to where we are today, no matter what part of business," Kennedy said.
“It’s an interesting and neat balancing act to really try to keep our core and our tradition and the values of our sport but also to think differently about where we want to go in the future as a sport too, whether that’s the racing product we bring our fans, whether it’s the locations we’re going to, what that experience is like, even how fans are consuming content on a race weekend too.
“I think everyone wants to see something a little different. We’re never going to be able to cater to everyone, but I think we can meet somewhere in the middle and still have some innovative ideas and test some new things out along the way but still keep that tradition intact and make it special. It’s been a challenge for sure, but a neat challenge trying to thread a needle between the two of those.”
It’s exactly that kind of mindset that settles the hearts and minds of those he’s working with and working for.
“It goes past the legacy of the family and goes to a love of the sport," Phelps said. “I think he shares that, frankly, with Jim [France] because Jim has never seen a race he didn’t like. He can find something good in every race. And he loves it. There’s no place he’d rather be than a race track and I think Ben shares that same love of the sport and I think that’s really, really important for us as a company and more broadly, as a sport.”
It all leads to a lot of enthusiasm about the future of NASCAR – both immediate and grand-scale. And the palpable uptick comes from inside the garage, outside in the grandstands and from seats of corporate boardrooms.
Kennedy’s high hopes and expectations have been a source of exhilaration and point of promise for the sport. And perhaps the best news for those that believe in his potential is that he’s only getting started.
“Ben’s fulfilling his legacy," said 2012 NASCAR Cup Series champion Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski, who moves into a new owner/driver role next season with Roush Fenway Racing.
“He’s making bold moves that need to be made. And I think it’s been a major part of the success story the sport has seen over the last 12-18 months.
“I think we’re on an upswing."
After three consecutive wins in the 2021 Club Challenge season for Gordon Barnes, Federico Monto brought the Brit’s winning streak to an end. The Academy Motorsport / Alex Caffi Motorsport driver was the most consistent among seven Club Challenge entrants and scored the maximum points in both 30-minutes timed sessions in the regularity based challenge of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series at Circuit Zolder.
Driving the #2 Academy Motorsport / Alex Caffi Motorsport EuroNASCAR FJ, Monti scored two podium finishes in the 2021 Club Challenge season so far and made it to the top at the 4-km long Limburg track for the first time this year. The Italian closed the gap from Barnes, who’s still leading the overall standings before the final round at Vallelunga in Italy. The battle for the title is on and Barnes will have to fend off the attacks brought by Monti and Paul Jouffreau when the season culminates under the Italian sun.
“We had two fantastic sessions today and for the team it could not have been a better start to the race weekend”, said Monti, who scored his second Club Challenge career win at Zolder. “We made it to the top of the podium in the Club Challenge today, because we found the best possible setup for the car. The track was wet in the first session so we tweaked the car. Despite the dry track in both timed sessions, we decided to keep the setup and that really worked well. I’m close to the championship leader in the overall standings and I’m sure it will be a phenomenal finale when we hit the track at Vallelunga.”
2017 Club Challenge Champion Andreas Kuchelbacher ended up second at the wheel of his #46 Marko Stipp Motorsport Chevrolet Camaro. The Austrian bested Not Only Motorsport’s Nicolo Gabossi, who rounded out the podium in the forests of Limburg. Jouffreau followed in fourth, while championship leader and 2021 Club Challenge dominator Barnes only finished fifth. The Brit, driving the #48 Marko Stipp Motorsport Camaro, was on his best lap in the first timed session, when the red flags were waved. In the second session, Barnes didn’t find the right rhythm in the traffic.
RDV Competition’s Jerome Mure finished sixth ahead of Simona Lenci, who completed the Club Session classification at Circuit Zolder. With double points on the line, the regularity based challenge’s championship battle will be decided at Autodromo di Vallelunga in Italy on October 30-31. Who will follow in the footsteps of 2020 Club Challenge Champion Alain Mosqueron.
A new era is set to begin for the CARS Tour in 2022.
The Super Late Model division, which has been a part of the CARS Tour since its inception back in 2015, will be replaced by a Pro Late Model series that will run alongside Late Model Stocks for most of the season.
CARS Tour owner Jack McNelly sees the introduction of the Pro Late Model Tour as a logical step following recent developments with the Super Late Model division and is confident that the new venture will lead to continued growth for the series.
“Our Super car count has been dwindling for several years now,” McNelly said. “It just got to the point where I felt like we needed to make a change so we could have a wider range of competitors that could be with us.”
While McNelly is disappointed to eliminate the Super Late Model Tour despite long-time loyalty from drivers like Matt Craig, Jeff Batten, Brandon Setzer and others, he hopes that many of the regulars will end up making the jump to the Pro Late Model Tour.
The primary difference between the Super Late Models and Pro Late Models is the crate engine utilized by the latter. Some Super Late Model team owners like Travis Kvapil already possess a crate engine that will allow them to make a seamless transition over to the new series.
McNelly said that the Pro Late Model Tour will follow similar rules to the CRA Series, Southern Super Series and those used by Montgomery Motor Speedway. A complete rules package will be announced to the teams on Nov. 15.
By not diverting from other established divisions in the region, McNelly said that Pro Late Model regulars will have more freedom to race wherever they want on an off weekend.
“Teams can load up on an off weekend and go to Pensacola, Montgomery or Nashville to race,” McNelly said. “Having the same rules may not be important for everybody but I’m sure we’re going to have a handful of drivers that run with us who want to run the All-American 400 and can do that without having to make any major changes.”
Along with being able to increase the number of doubleheader weekends with the two divisions, another factor that convinced McNelly to introduce a Pro Late Model series was his desire to create a developmental ladder inside the CARS Tour.
With more younger drivers entering the Late Model ranks over the past few years, McNelly believes the Pro Late Model Tour will give them an outlet to acquire valuable experience before they end up facing tougher competition at higher levels of auto racing.
“I think our car count will pick up,” McNelly said. “This will also be a natural steppingstone from Pro Late Models into a Late Model Stock, which is our premier division. The Supers weren’t going to move into Late Model Stocks but these young drivers can come in, run a year or two in Pro Late Models and then go into Late Model Stocks if that is what they want to do.”
McNelly said that he will always be grateful for the memories that were created during the six-year run of the Super Late Model Tour but he is excited to see the Pro Late Model Tour thrive alongside the Late Model Stock division for what he hopes will be for many years to come.
Schedules for both the Late Model Stock and Pro Late Model Tour will be announced during the season finale at South Boston Speedway on Oct. 16, with additional details coming later.
For additional information on the CARS Late Model Stock Tour and the CARS Super Late Model Tour visit www.carsracingtour.com. Be sure to stay active and social with the tour by liking “CARS Tour” on Facebook, following @CARSTour on Twitter, and scrolling through photos on Instagram cars_tour. Additional series information can be obtained by calling the CARS Tour series office, located in Mooresville, NC, at 704.662.9212.
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Michigan-based company Koucar Management has partnered with Our Motorsports’ No. 23 team for this weekend’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL with driver Ty Dillon.
Koucar Management specializes in real estate, mergers, acquisitions, and operations of companies providing products, services, and solutions in diverse industries worldwide. A vital component of the Koucar portfolio is EOTECH. Trusted by top-tier professionals, EOTECH produces professional grade optics offering world-class service to our law enforcement, special operations professionals, and civilian consumers.
As the company makes its initial foray into NASCAR sponsorship, the Koucar Management livery will feature the Koucar family of companies in a unique pink and white scheme in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“We could not be more excited to be a part of the NASCAR Xfinity Series and sponsoring Ty Dillon and the Our Motorsports team,” said Joe Caradonna, Managing Partner of Koucar Management. “What makes it even sweeter is this is a Drive for the Cure event and all of our Food and Beverage locations will be having events and donating a portion of our sales on race day to cancer research.”
Joining EOTECH from the Koucar family of companies will be Cambria Hotels, i2G Systems, Detroit Taco, Bar Verona, Pristine Properties, Verona Inspired Italian, Apex Placement and Consulting and Element 22.
Dillon has five previous starts for Our Motorsports in 2021 not finishing outside the top-15. Saturday will mark Dillon’s first start at the Charlotte ROVAL in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
The Drive For The Cure 250 will take place on Saturday, October 9 at 3 p.m. ET. The 155.44- mile event will be broadcast on NBCSN.
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