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.

Kvyat: Current F1 struggles feel ‘never ending’

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Daniil Kvyat made no secret of his frustration after qualifying a lowly 19th for the German Grand Prix on Saturday, continuing his disappointing run of form.

Since being demoted to a seat at Toro Rosso from parent team Red Bull for the Spanish Grand Prix, Kvyat has scored just two points, struggling to match the pace of teammate Carlos Sainz Jr.

Kvyat’s return to Toro Rosso was facilitated following two crashes in the Russian Grand Prix, leading to questions about how he was handling the pressure of racing for Red Bull.

Kvyat cast a despondent figure after qualifying, having asked his team over the radio after the session: “What the f*** is going on?”, venting his frustration.

“Little bit of a crazy lap, with many mistakes,” Kvyat said of his qualifying lap.

”I don’t feel great. It’s not a good period for me and it seems like it’s never-ending now. I’m trying every weekend, but nothing is working so far.

“It’s not like I’m having the most pleasant time in the world, it’s not easy but it’s not an excuse.”

Kvyat told TV reporters after the session that he needed to go away and refocus over the summer break following Hockenheim, but said that his real issue lies with the STR11 car.

“I don’t know what I need, I don’t know. I just need that feeling from the car. If it comes back I should be much better,” Kvyat said.

“I don’t know what’s going on. It seems like my window of working is very narrow, I need to work on expanding it, but it’s not easy.

“I feel like solutions are not far away, even if it looks really bad on paper. We had a good Friday yesterday for the first time in a while.

“Tomorrow is the race, we need to try to fight our way back. The pace was not bad on Friday in the long runs.

“I have not much to lose anyway, so I’ll just try to go for it tomorrow.”

Kvyat’s future with Toro Rosso looks increasingly uncertain after the recent upturn in form of Red Bull junior driver Pierre Gasly.

Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost previously said he wanted to keep Kvyat for 2017, but with Gasly winning two GP2 races in the past three weeks and completing a tire test for Red Bull, he looks more and more likely to become Sainz’s teammate next season.

Acura working toward NSX homologation; team timeframe TBD

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Photo: Tony DiZinno
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LEXINGTON, Ohio – This weekend’s been an important one for Acura and Honda, with the new Acura NSX GT3 turning its first public laps during Thursday’s Pirelli World Challenge test session, although plans for it to run in practice on Friday were scrubbed owing to heavy rains that canceled the session.

Inevitably though while the public debut is nice, the next steps for the NSX GT3 are determining – officially – the series in which it will compete and the teams with which will campaign it across the global spectrum of sports car racing.

Honda Performance Development president Art St. Cyr and NSX project leader Lee Niffenegger outlined more details about the NSX today in a brief media availability.

“We have some further private tests planned coming up in the next few weeks. We have FIA homologation testing coming up in September (at Ledoux in France) that’s a fixed week every year,” Niffenegger said. “So between now and then we have several different types of tests as well as on‑track tests.”

Niffenegger expanded a bit on the homologation process.

“Homologation, for those of you not familiar, there’s a dynamic test where they measure downforce, horsepower. Basically they set the basic vehicle parameters,” he explained.

“But there also can be a long process of documentation and inspection that takes place. Even though you go to a test in September, it can be one, two, three months, depending on what the FIA is looking for as far as documentation, any things they want you to change on the car for safety, could be anything.”

While the car is anticipated to run in both of IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the Pirelli World Challenge, St. Cyr declined to confirm either of those details today.

“We don’t have a specific timeframe when we’re going to do that,” St. Cyr said. “Obviously we’re evaluating the different series it’s legal to run this car in.

“As I mentioned before, there’s a lot of interest in running this car. We’re evaluating that. It’s pretty much an independent schedule for homologation. We will decide the teams. We want to get them as soon as possible, right, to start testing the car and start running the car.

“Pretty much as soon as possible for us is when we want to start announcing our teams on that. But I don’t have a solid date for that.

“We don’t have a fixed deadline, By this date we’re going to have a team. When we’ve checked all the boxes, that’s when we’ll announce the teams.”

Niffenegger added, “I don’t think it’s necessarily involved with homologation.”

Michael Shank Racing has been rumored as a possible team to campaign the NSX GT3, and Shank, who’s a Columbus local and whose shop is based in nearby Pataskala, Ohio, has been on site this weekend to survey and view the car.

RealTime Racing has housed the test NSX GT3 this weekend and while it would seem to be a strong candidate to race the car next year, it has not been formally confirmed.

Testing has occurred for the car at at least four U.S. circuits besides Mid-Ohio but this weekend marked its formal public debut. No further public tests are planned for the rest of this year, but they haven’t been ruled out entirely.

Ricciardo: Red Bull gaining ground on Mercedes

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 30:  Top three qualifiers Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP, Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP and Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing in parc ferme after qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 30, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Daniel Ricciardo believes that Red Bull is gaining ground on Mercedes at the front of the pack in Formula 1 after locking out the second row of the grid for the third race in a row on Saturday in Germany.

Ricciardo and teammate Max Verstappen qualified third and fourth respectively at Hockenheim, finishing four-tenths of a second off pole-sitter Nico Rosberg.

“In Q3 I knew I had to find some more time and I put a really good lap together in the first run,” Ricciardo said after the session.

“Then I knew there wasn’t much more for the second run so I probably tried a little bit too hard and made a few mistakes, but in the end it was a nice qualifying.

“Third is a good place to start. Hopefully we can look at Mercedes tomorrow and have a good battle with them and not focus on what’s happening behind us.”

Red Bull spent the first half of the season embroiled in a close battle with Ferrari, but now appears to have pulled clear in the battle for second in the F1 pecking order.

“The feeling in the team is very good at the moment,” Ricciardo said.

“In the last three races now both Red Bulls have been in front of Ferrari and it seems like we’re getting a little bit closer to Mercedes.

“Everyone in the team is happy and it’s nice standing here knowing that I’m in the top three. Tomorrow I think we’ll have a good chance.

“The long runs yesterday looked a bit better than they did in Budapest so let’s see. I’ll start the race on slightly older tires because I had to do two laps in Q2, which means they are not as fresh for the start but it’ll be fine.

“I’ll go hard and hopefully get in front and at least lead some of the race.”

Verstappen echoed Ricciardo’s thoughts on the battle at the front, saying that although Red Bull’s main competitor was still Ferrari, Mercedes is in its crosshairs.

“The main target is to be in front of the Ferraris and that is what we have done,” Verstappen said.

“That said, we know they will be quick in the race as we saw last week.

“Mercedes look pretty strong but we are not that far away so I think we can be very happy with that.

“It’s my first time here in a Formula 1 car and not an easy track to learn so I’m really pleased with today. We can both be satisfied to be on the second row as this track wasn’t expected to be the best for us.

“Race pace is looking very good for the moment. We definitely want to be challenging for a podium tomorrow, I think a win might be difficult though.”

The German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app on Sunday from 7am ET.

Hulkenberg gets one-place grid penalty for tire mix-up

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Nico Hulkenberg of Germany drives the 7 Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM09 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Nico Hulkenberg has been given a one-place grid penalty for Sunday’s German Grand Prix after a tire mix-up during qualifying at Hockenheim.

Hulkenberg qualified seventh for Force India, but used a set of super-soft tires in Q1 that should have been returned to Formula 1 tire supplier Pirelli ahead of the session.

“The team returned electronically the wrong set of tires and used these during Q1,” a short statement from the FIA stewards in Germany read, confirming Hulkenberg’s one-place grid drop.

With the penalty, Hulkenberg will now start eighth in Germany behind Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, who finished narrowly behind.

“I’m feeling pretty happy to qualify in seventh for my home race – it’s best of the rest behind the top three teams and a good effort by the whole team,” Hulkenberg said after qualifying.

“Our objective is always to maximize our potential and it feels like we achieved that today. Most of my laps in the session came together nicely and my final effort in Q3 was spot on.

“We can expect a tough fight for good points tomorrow, but we are in a good starting position and we’ve looked strong here in all the sessions. The long run pace is competitive, too, so we’ve got every chance of getting a great result this weekend.

“There is talk of some rain tomorrow and to be honest I would not mind a shower during the race, but let’s wait and see what happens.”

Teammate Sergio Perez qualified ninth on Saturday, reaching Q3 for the first time at Hockenheim.

“It was a fun and very intense fight with Nico and the two Williams cars throughout qualifying, and in the end it was really close between the four of us,” Perez said.

“It was crucial to get through Q1 on one set of tires because some other teams had to use two sets and this gave us a small advantage in Q2, which helped us make the top ten.

“On my last lap of Q3 I struggled a bit through some of the right-hand corners; I think I may have picked something up on my front wing – maybe some debris – and that cost me some time, but it’s something I will analyze with the team.

“In the end, it was so close and just a few hundredths of a second made the difference. Tomorrow is going to be interesting.

“We are starting on the super-softs on which we qualified and we will need to work well as a team to make the strategy work and score some important points.”

The German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.