Alex Kennedy attempts Sprint Cup debut, will drive Jason Leffler’s car

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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.

New study surveys drivers’ opinions on crashes, concussions, more

James Black/IndyCar
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Auto racing safety has continued to improve through the decades, but the sport remains inherently dangerous, according to a new survey.

At the close of 2018, a new organization called Racing Safety United emerged with the intention of reducing drivers’ risk of being harmed.

RSU is made up of more than 30 members including former NASCAR Cup Series competitor Jerry Nadeau, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, NHRA team owner Don Schumacher and motorsports journalist Dick Berggren.

One of RSU’s first initiatives was to determine what current drivers thought of racing safety. The organization developed a 14-question survey and promoted it on select motorsports websites and forums. 

Participants were given the opportunity to disclose their identity or remain anonymous, and those who provided contact information were entered to win a $500 prize (for anonymous participants, the prize funds would be donated to a motorsports charity). 

More than 140 individuals participated in the survey over the course of 12 months. Below are the results of the survey:

Driver status

The vast majority of survey participants (60%) were amateur racers, while 26% of the participants were classified as Semi-Pro/Professional racers. The remaining 14% consisted of other individuals involved in the sport such as team owners and crew chiefs. 

When asked how frequently they race, 58% of driver respondents averaged 10 or more times per year on track, while 42% averaged 10 times or less.

The top five tracks respondents said they raced most often: Road Atlanta (21 votes), Watkins Glen (17 votes), Virginia International Raceway (16 votes), Mid-Ohio (16 votes), and Road America (13 votes).

Vehicular damage, injuries common

Over a third of respondents said they had been injured while racing, and almost two-thirds sasid they had suffered severe vehicle damage while racing

Driver error was cited as the top cause of vehicle damage (42 mentions), followed by concrete walls (26 mentions), mechanical failures (24 mentions), and other drivers (19 mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for better driver training/coaching, energy absorbing walls, and more technical inspections.

Almost a quarter of drivers said they had experienced racing-related concussions, and nearly half the respondents said one or multiple concussions would affect their decision to race in the future. 

Drivers primarily influenced by peers 

Roughly half the drivers said they would consider adopting new safety equipment if influenced by another driver (51 total mentions) and/or if recommended by a sanctioning body (47 total mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for drivers to become safety advocates and educate other drivers and for sanctioning bodies to mandate safety equipment. 

Drivers concerned with concrete walls

Approximately three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said they believed certain race tracks were more dangerous than others. Nearly half the drivers surveyed believe that concrete walls were the primary cause of damage to drivers and vehicles. 

Drivers willing to help

Just more than three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said that they would be willing to join a safety alliance to advocate for safer tracks. Two-thirds of drivers said that they also would be willing to contribute to a motorsports safety fund.

Click here for the full results of RSU’s survey

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