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.

Is there a new adventure for Lowdon, Booth? @RealManor Twitter launches today

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Practice
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A mere two days after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and John Booth and Graeme Lowdon’s sign-off to the Manor Marussia F1 Team occurred, Lowdon’s already dropped a hint of what his next move could be.

Lowdon and Booth sat front and center in a Twitter post released Tuesday, with Lowdon writing: “So maybe time for a new adventure? Why not come along too? For any news, just follow MM .”

Fittingly, the aforementioned new Twitter account – @realManor – has premiered today.

Two things to note here. One… the timing is very intriguing to say the least. Booth, then team principal, and Lowdon, then sporting director, tendered their resignations from a team that appeared to be moving forward for 2016, with confirmation of a new Mercedes power unit and technical support from Williams, in the form of gearbox and suspension components. But Booth and Lowdon resigned following apparent disagreements with the direction of the team under new owner Stephen Fitzpatrick.

Second, the naming of the new Twitter account as Real Manor implies, intentional or not, that Manor is more closely aligned to Booth and Lowdon, rather than with the Manor Marussia F1 Team. The Twitter bio page makes that fairly clear: “Official Twitter account of Manor Motorsport. Established in 1990. Over 180 race wins and 19 National and International Championships. We love racing.” Naturally though, the Manor Marussia F1 Team continues with @ManorF1Team as its Twitter account.

With Manor F1’s management structure now going through the change, with Booth and Lowdon now out and former McLaren F1 sporting director Dave Ryan joining the team as racing director, and now this new cat out of the bag, it will be very intriguing to see what develops from a name and/or new adventure standpoint that Lowdon is referring to.

Alfonso Celis Jr. makes solid F1 test debut with Force India

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Mexican driver Alfonso Celis Jr., who was confirmed as a development driver for Sahara Force India late last month, had his first running in the VJM08 chassis during today’s season-ending test at the Yas Marina Circuit.

The Pirelli test, which featured the debut of the new ultrasoft compound, hasn’t gotten much ink thus far – perhaps by design as you’ll see from Celis’ teammate Nico Hulkenberg’s quote below.

As for Celis, who ran 65 laps for his first outing, it was a chance to step up and acclimate to an Formula 1 car for the first time.

“My first day in a Formula One car certainly lived up to expectations,” Celis said. “The car had huge grip and excellent braking efficiency, but my experience in the Formula 3.5 car had prepared me quite well for this big challenge.

“I really enjoyed the experience and I’m pleased with how the day went. For the first few runs I took things steady while I got used to the car and all the systems. Then, with each run, I started to push more and more as I kept learning about the car.

“With the program for the day set by Pirelli, I could simply focus on my driving and getting to know everyone. 2016 is going to be an important year for me as I continue working with the team so I’m pleased to have some valuable miles under my belt already.”

Meanwhile, Hulkenberg’s quote was brief:

“A trouble-free and routine day of tire testing. Lots of laps, well over a race distance for me, and hopefully lots of useful information for Pirelli,” the German said after completing 71 laps.

Force India chief race engineer Tom McCullough said Celis did well enough as he prepares for some free practice outings in 2016.

“We are very pleased to have completed a successful day of Pirelli tire testing with Alfonso and Nico covering a combined total of 136 laps,” he said. “It was Alfonso’s first day in a Formula One car and it’s always fun to be part of that acclimatization process. He worked well with the engineers and improved throughout the morning as he completed numerous long runs on high fuel. The time spent in the car today has been good preparation for his involvement in free practice sessions next year.

“Nico took over the tire program for the afternoon, gathering plenty of useful data with no issues. All in all it’s been a trouble-free day and a nice way to wrap up the 2015 season.”

A handful of tweets from the day are below:

Report: Tony Kanaan undergoes surgery for hernia

Tony Kanaan
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The best kind of love is Instagrammed, right?

NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing driver Tony Kanaan and wife Lauren Kanaan (nee Bohlander) took to Instagram yesterday to post a couple videos of Kanaan’s surgery on Monday.

Kanaan posted an Instagram picture following the surgery, which is reportedly for a hernia per USA Today Sports‘ Brant James (see below).

What was a bit funnier, perhaps, was Lauren Kanaan posting a handful of Instagram videos of a woozy – but still fast and sharp – “TK” from her own account.

If you say so, @tkanaan. 😂

A video posted by Lauren Kanaan (@laurenbohlander) on

Serious #ultimatum. Love you, too @tkanaan 😈😂

A video posted by Lauren Kanaan (@laurenbohlander) on

And one minute ago he loved me. #gofigure #wecanhang @tkanaan

A video posted by Lauren Kanaan (@laurenbohlander) on

The offseason for Tony Kanaan, since the IndyCar season finale at Sonoma on August 30, has included tests at Road America and Phoenix, another triathlon and now this surgery.

Chip Ganassi Racing generally tends to put its IndyCar and NASCAR stars in cars for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, which is already next month.

With rumors swirling that Ganassi will run at least one and possibly two Daytona Prototypes at the Rolex 24 in addition to their new Ford GT program, and with Kanaan one of four drivers with a shot to defend his overall win, you’d think he will be good to go to be named to one of those seats.

MRTI: Team Pelfrey signs Jordan Cane as its second USF2000 driver

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Team Pelfrey has filled out two of its seats in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda championship, with confirmation Tuesday that 14-year-old Jordan Cane will be one of the team’s drivers in 2016.

Cane joins Robert Megennis, 15, as the first two confirmed drivers for 2016, with Cane in the team’s No. 81 entry. Both tested at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at Circuit of The Americas in late November.

Cane’s contract is for two years, with an option to extend beyond that. He graduates from F1600, where he won seven races and finished fourth in the championship despite missing several races.

“I am so pleased to continue my North American open-wheel racing career with Team Pelfrey,” Cane said.

“My time in America has been such a highlight to my resume especially breaking the all-time win record in my first season and coming away fourth in the F1600 Championship whilst missing six races –not bad for the youngest in the world this year in formula cars. I didn’t expect to have such a fantastic year and I have to thank everyone at Team Pelfrey who has made it possible.”

“We are delighted to have Jordan join us for another two years,” said Nigel Tuckey, team principal of Team Pelfrey. “His growth on and off the track has been extraordinary and his competitive nature is something every driver in the paddock wishes to inhabit. We’ve grown a custom to seeing him on the top step of the podium, and we hope to see more of that come 2016.”

Pelfrey’s four-car lineup in 2015 featured a quartet of rookies, Ayla Agren, Luke Gabin, Garth Rickards and Nikita Lastochkin. All would like to continue for a second season in USF2000, budgets pending, and Lastochkin dominated the Griffis Test while driving with Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing.