2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Stylized Portraits

Ben Kennedy, great-grandson of NASCAR founder, making his own path behind the wheel

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NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie Ben Kennedy hasn’t taken the usual path of a young driver. But perhaps that was to be expected.

The great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. and son of International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa France Kennedy received a thorough education in the sport by working jobs at Daytona International Speedway – everything from cooking hot dogs and hamburgers for track employees to creating signs for events at “The World Center of Racing.”

Kennedy, 21, also just completed a more formal education as well, receiving his diploma in sports management from the University of Florida – which included a final semester internship at NBC Sports Group during the Sochi Olympics.

But instead of parlaying it all into a job somewhere within the sanctioning body or with a race team or even some ISC track, Kennedy is focusing on a dream that precious few are able to realize: Becoming a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver.

Thus, the backup plan in case he doesn’t turn out to be the next Jimmie Johnson.

“Having [a degree] in your back pocket in case this racing thing doesn’t work out – I think some people say the odds of being a pro athlete nowadays are less than you winning the lottery, so if this racing thing doesn’t work, you have that degree in your back pocket and work somewhere in the motorsports industry or some other business,” he said recently to MotorSportsTalk.

“I’ll come to that road if I come to it, and if not, I’m gonna keep digging on this racing stuff.”

While time will tell if Kennedy makes it to the Cup Series, it’s clear by his ascension to the Trucks that he is indeed a talented wheelman.

He won multiple championships at Florida short tracks such as New Smyrna Speedway and the Orlando Speedworld, and made the jump to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East in 2011. In 2012, he scored his first NASCAR-sanctioned win in a Whelen Euro Series event in France. Last year, he broke through for his first K&N East triumph at Five Flags Speedway in Florida.

He would go on to add one more win at Winston-Salem en route to a fourth-place finish overall in the standings. But his 2013 campaign was also notable for him getting his first taste of the Trucks by running in five races (Bristol, Iowa, Chicago, Martinsville, and Homestead-Miami).

Three of those races had Kennedy drive for Turner Scott Motorsports and post a strong fourth-place result at Martinsville. The TSM group obviously liked what they saw; Kennedy is now one of their full-time drivers.

“It’s been really cool working for TSM and racing for them for the past five races last year and now [full-time] this year as well,” Kennedy said. “I know we have a great crew together – it’s something that [team owners] Steve Turner and Harry Scott have worked on, and I think they have an awesome team going right now. It’s got a little bit of everything and we’ve got Mike Shelton as our crew chief, who [helped] James Buescher to his 2012 [Truck Series] championship.

“They’re definitely race-winning trucks, and there’s definitely a race-winning crew behind it.”

Heading into the third Truck race of the year tonight at Kansas Speedway, Kennedy’s already had some cool moments. He sat on the pole and led 52 laps at his beloved Daytona in the season-opening race (in which he finished 15th).

Most recently at Martinsville, he earned his best Truck result yet with a third-place finish. Kennedy now sits sixth in the championship, just 10 points behind current co-leaders Johnny Sauter and Timothy Peters.

While Kennedy figures his best chances of winning will come on the short tracks with which he’s more familiar, he’s looking forward to mastering the art of racing on the bigger ovals.

“I’m starting to learn [aerodynamics] and how the Trucks go around the corner with other Trucks around them, and how they get aero-tight and aero-loose, all that stuff,” he explained.

“Another big jump for me was the difference of the tires that we run – going from a more flexible, bias-ply tire that’s more forgiving to a radial tire that’s much less forgiving and kind of on edge all the time.”

It’s a lot to take in for any young racer, even one with a pedigree. But put the family ties to the back burner and that’s what you have with Kennedy: An evolving young racer.

It will be a tough process. But while he admits there’s a little bit more pressure on him to succeed, his family’s behind him at every turn.

“They’re really supportive of whatever I want to do, which is really cool,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, when we all get in our race cars and strap in and put the helmets on, there’s always pressure to win on every one of us coming up through this.

“We all want to make it up to the Cup Series, and there’s pressure on us to win, to be a great spokesperson for the sponsors that we work with. And there’s definitely pressure to make it up to the Cup Series one day, which I know is, for most of us, our hopes and dreams.”

And so, with an open mind, humble attitude, and heavy right foot, Kennedy – representing a new generation of one of American sports’ most influential families – charges into the future that neither he nor anyone else can predict.

But somehow, you figure he’s going to leave his mark, whether it’s in the boardroom or behind the wheel.

source: Getty Images
Ben Kennedy and his No. 31 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet, earlier in the season at Daytona. Credit: Getty Images.

Raikkonen drops five places on Monaco grid after gearbox change

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Kimi Raikkonen will drop five places on the grid for Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix after being hit with a penalty for changing his gearbox.

Raikkonen qualified sixth for Ferrari on Saturday, but will now start from 11th on the grid after the team made the change on his car following final practice earlier in the day.

The change on Raikkonen’s car came short of the six consecutive races that it is required to last, prompting FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer to refer the case to the stewards, who duly handed Raikkonen a five-place grid penalty.

Ferrari struggled to match the pace of Red Bull and Mercedes in qualifying as Sebastian Vettel could only finish fourth.

Raikkonen did qualify sixth behind Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, but will now have to fight his way back up the order in Sunday’s race.

“The whole weekend has been quite tricky, but this morning the car felt a bit better and for qualifying we improved even more,” Raikkonen said.

“For sure we did the right things, but we struggled to make the tires work as we wanted. They were too much on the edge of the grip, the rear was slipping or the front was sliding and in a track like this when you don’t have a consistent good grip you lose a lot of time because of that.

“Obviously we are not happy of where we end up and the penalty due to the gearbox change for sure doesn’t help, but we’ll try to make the best out of it.

“We cannot predict what will happen tomorrow, for sure the race it’s not going to be easy, but usually many things happen here, we’ll try to get the most, to do the right calls in case of safety car and to take the right decisions.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am ET.

Karam: “From Carb Day to ‘500 race day for the Gas Monkey Energy car”

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Editor’s note: Sage Karam, a past champion in both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series who finished ninth in his first Indianapolis 500 with DRR in 2014 at age 19, will file a series of blogs for NBCSports.com this month. Here’s his fourth entry, after Carb Day and with tomorrow’s Indianapolis 500 now set to launch. You can read his firstsecond and third blogs here.  He’ll run the No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing. 

Wow, it’s the weekend of the 100th Indianapolis 500. And I’m ready to go.

We had Carb Day on Friday with all 33 drivers on the track for the final one-hour practice before the big race. As it did on Monday, the No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevy felt good on Carb Day. It handles great in traffic. In fact, we stopped early in practice as the car felt very good.

Now, it’s the countdown for the world’s biggest race. I’ve been waiting some nine months to get back in a race car. And last year, my race was short at Indy (went out first turn of the first lap), but I’m back and feel great about Sunday’s classic race.

For the last two years, we have run the same configuration of chassis for me. I have become accustomed to it now. Now I don’t have the experience of a Scott Dixon or a Tony Kanaan. I don’t know if it’s our car or setup, but it is good in race trim. It’s the best kind of feeling I’ve had in a car here.

I think many of the other guys should fall off in the race. I think a lot of cars up front will fall back, and some guys don’t look good in race trim. It’s hard to pass. I feel like there will be a big pack. Guys who can get through the middle of corner should be good in the race.

It’s funny how things change here over the course of the month. I think there was one day in practice last week we tested, and we weren’t bad. I was eighth. I liked how the car was, but we made a big geometry change and then I was lost. We were 16th or 20th. The car was awful, and I couldn’t pass a soul. I felt like I was in Indy Lights car and getting the doors blown off. “Man, this will be an awful month,” I thought.

I told our guys that we need to go back to the car we had on Monday. We did, and right from the get-go it was better. We worked with it a bit. I was passing on demand! I could drive behind all five Andretti cars. This is a great race car. Obviously we missed it in qualifying.

After that bad day, I was telling you about being down in the dumps. I said, “Well, this stinks. I’m gonna run mid-pack and try make something out of it.” Then Monday happened and it was like a light switch went on. I felt super good. When you’re passing people it’s incredible… I passed guys who have won this race before.

And we have a strong team too. We have 90 percent of the same crew as my first year with Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing in 2014. We have a good pit box, right at pit in. I can just focus on squaring it up every time. The guys are working so hard.

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

I expected to go to the finals again Friday in the Pit Stop Challenge. We got a tough call when we were put in the right lane – the asphalt lane. There wasn’t any grip there and I spun the tires out of the pit stop. The crew was fast but tires spun. I feel badly for the crew because they did a great job. I thought we could win it. Penske and Ganassi always bring it. I wanted to take the top dogs down Friday.

I’m a big believer in keeping the morale up at the team. Earlier this week, I was just wiping down my mechanic’s bike. He has a bike he rode to the track. I said “Hey, it’s the little things. You work for me and I work for you.” They love that stuff. They’ll be laser sharp focused for Sunday. We can make up time in the pits. Hopefully, by halfway, I can be where I need to be.

I have a shot at this race. I’ve been nervous since Monday. If you actually have a chance to win this race, it’s an incredible feeling. The 100th Indy 500 in general makes you feel good.

So how about becoming the youngest Indy 500 winner in history, and doing so in the 100th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing?”

Now that’s a great story, and I hope to pull it off this Sunday.



Kvyat escapes penalty despite failing technical check after Monaco qualifying

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: Daniil Kvyat of Russia driving the (26) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR11 Ferrari 060/5 turbo on track during qualifying for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Daniil Kvyat has escaped exclusion from qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix despite his Toro Rosso car failing a technical check.

Kvyat qualified ninth in Monaco on Saturday, and was due to start the race from eighth on the grid after Kimi Raikkonen was given a grid penalty for a gearbox change.

However, Kvyat looked set to be excluded from qualifying when his car failed a front floor deflection test after the session.

“A front floor deflection test was carried on car number 26 [Kvyat],” FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer wrote.

“The vertical deflection under a vertical load of 4000 Newton exeeded 5mm.

“As this is not in compliance with Article 3.17.5 I am referring this matter to the stewards for their consideration.”

However, the stewards confirmed that Kvyat’s car had failed the test due to damage sustained during qualifying, prompting them to allow him to keep P8 on the grid.

“The team produced evidence that the car suffered an impact which reduced the downforce and resulted with a slower lap time than in Q2,” the stewards said.

“Therefore whilst technically the car failed to pass the deflection test, the stewards have decided not to impose any penalty. However the team is reminded that further tests will be conducted and that future failure of the test may not result in the same decision.

“The FIA technical team is requested to further study the telemetry produced by the team and provide a report to the Stewards if appropriate.”

Kvyat spoke of damage to his car that may have contributed to the floor failing the technical check after qualifying.

“I’m not happy with my qualifying today,” Kvyat said.

“I think I hit a curb hard in the third sector during my last run and I don’t know if this is maybe the reason why we lost a bit of time in Q3.

“The car certainly behaved differently compared to Q2, so we now have to analyze this, because we could’ve finished in a higher position than P9. It’s quite disappointing as we know we have a strong car with huge potential.

“Having said this, I’m confident for tomorrow, we have a good chance of scoring points and we will fight hard for them.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am.

Carpenter’s “Team America” trio optimistic of big race day at Indy 500

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Josef Newgarden, driver of the #21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet,  drives  on Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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INDIANAPOLIS – Conor Daly’s made a big deal about his partnership with Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee’s brand new T-shirt company, ShirtsforAmerica.com this month.

Fellow young American Sage Karam made waves and created running jokes about his own lack of shirts last year.

Yet neither of those two drives for the team you could accurately dub as “Team America,” this month, in Ed Carpenter Racing.

With Josef Newgarden, JR Hildebrand and team owner/driver Ed Carpenter, there’s a three-headed monster of freedom coming from Rows 1, 5 and 7 in Sunday’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Newgarden carries the team’s best hopes with a car, the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Chevrolet, which is considered by many in the paddock as one of the leading contenders to win Sunday’s race.

The 25-year-old American won the Freedom 100 here in 2011 but that would pale in comparison to anything he’d pull off on Sunday, if he pulls it off.

“I got spoiled the first year I was here,” Newgarden told NBC Sports. “It couldn’t go much better that. But I haven’t had a race here anything close to that since.

“It’d probably be similar, times 10, for the Indy 500. Yeah there’s a great crowd then. But if it were to happen on race day, it would probably be sensory overload.”

Frankly he’s due for a result of any note here given his past four starts have ended 25th, 28th, 30th and ninth. But Newgarden made the key point that finishes in the Indy 500 don’t matter at all unless it’s a win; he’s also got a specially designed Brett King Designs helmet that features a tribute to inaugural 1911 Indy 500 winner Ray Harroun.

“I feel like nothing matters here unless you win,” he told me Monday after the final full day of practice.

“Man, the worst place you can finish here is second. Third is great for points. But it’s another year you didn’t win. Winning is the only thing acceptable at this place.

“It’s more heightened here. People remember who won the Indianapolis 500 and they don’t remember anything else. You come here to win this race.

“It’s a balancing act, but if it came down to it, I’d go for the win over points, because it’s the Indianapolis 500.”

A guy who of course famously went for the win, and lost, was one of Newgarden’s teammates in JR Hildebrand, in 2011.

The driver of the No. 6 Preferred Freezer Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet rolls off 15th on Sunday and sadly his runner-up finish of five years ago still is the first thing that is associated with the talented, still only 28 years old Californian out of Sausalito, who now lives in Colorado.

But the last two years have seen Hildebrand end best of the one-off entries, 10th and eighth, and neither time with the best pit crew.

Now he’s armed with a better crew and arguably an ace in the hole from the engineering side in Steve Newey, who ironically, was a co-owner of the winning car that beat Hildebrand in 2011. Newey was with Bryan Herta Autosport at the time, as the two watched Dan Wheldon’s No. 98 car fly past the semi-stranded JR.

“It’s been interesting working with new guys,” Hildebrand told NBC Sports. “It’s been engineering by committee, in large part because Josef is a legit title contender, so they’ve wanted continuity for his program.

“But here, Steve has been great. He has given a great feel for what goes on at this place. After this extra car effort now the last couple years, I have the best crew now in these three years.”

Both Hildebrand and Carpenter are happier with their cars in race trim compared to what they’ve shown thus far in qualifying. Carpenter starts his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet from the same position – 20th.

“I feel really good with the balance in race trim. It’s been frustrating here and there to not get speed out of it,” Carpenter told NBC Sports.

“But last year we all dealt with cars hard to drive, that were unpredictable and inconsistent. Now they’re consistent and predictable.

“Yeah I qualified better last year, but this year I am more comfortable with our car going into the race to legitimately get up front, much more so than last year.”

Here’s another nicer element of the year for ECR at Indy compared to last year – they’ve been clean.

Massive accidents for both Newgarden (airborne) and Carpenter (heavy Turn 2 plus some air) contributed to a nightmare month in 2015 and yet this month, they’ve all been clean.

Carpenter was also quick to hail Newgarden’s growth and development as he’s ascending into the top tier in the series, and really the only younger driver (south of 30 years old) who’s done so consistently in recent years.

“I think Josef gets better all the time. He’s entering the prime part of his career,” Carpenter explained.

“The biggest difference I’ve noticed here is his confidence, in himself and the car at this track. He’s been one of the guys to beat every time this month. Confidence is building. Car is fast.”

How does Carpenter balance the dilemma of wanting to win an elusive first ‘500 himself versus either of his teammates?

“That’s what good about teammates and having strong ones. It helps at the same time,” he said.

“There’s a couple times this week I thought about taking cars to shop and swapping paint jobs. His is so fast!

“But I’d never do that. I’m so happy that our cars are well prepared. We’re going for it.”