There may be a new name on the 43-car starting grid of Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway.
That is if New Mexico native Alex Kennedy manages to qualify the No. 19 MediaMaster/Dream Factory Toyota on the twisting 12-turn, 1.99-mile road course.
Driving for Humphrey Smith Racing, Kennedy, 21, hopes to make the 43-car field and potentially trade paint with some of the same drivers he’s watched while growing up, like Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
It will be an uphill battle for Kennedy to make the race, though. He’s competed in just 14 Nationwide Series races from 2010 to 2012 (he has not started a race in NNS this season), with his best finish being 15th in last year’s road course race at Montreal. Interestingly, nine of those 14 starts have been on road courses, including Road America and Watkins Glen.
Still, he has familiarity with Sonoma, having raced there at the age of 12 — can you believe it’s been almost a decade, Alex? — in several Legends Car races.
He also raced there twice in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, including an 11th-place finish in 2008 — at the age of 16, no less.
Kennedy will have some added inspiration and motivation to make Sunday’s race: he’ll be driving the same car that the late Jason Leffler drove in the June 9 Sprint Cup race at Pocono. Leffler was tragically killed in a New Jersey dirt track accident three days later.
Like many of his racing counterparts, Kennedy’s Toyota will have a “Lefturn” decal on the right side door of his ride as a tribute to Leffler.