Kenzie Ruston on right track to follow Danica Patrick’s road to racing success


Kenzie Ruston can relate so well to NASCAR star Danica Patrick.

Just like when Patrick was working her way up through the racing ranks early on in her own career, Ruston has also had to outwork other male drivers for virtually everything she’s achieved up to now.

“When I was younger, (fellow racers) thought of me as a girl first and then a racer,” Ruston told MST recently. “I feel that the older I’ve gotten, you race more older guys and they kind of understand. Once you earn their respect, they respect you and they kind of race you the way you race them.

“It’s definitely gotten easier. Back then, I used to just got taken out instead of raced. I feel nowadays, I actually get raced. I may get raced tougher at times, but you earn their respect and they race you with respect.”

Not surprisingly, Ruston has patterned her career after Patrick. But while the pride and joy of Roscoe, Ill., took a path to open-wheel and eventually IndyCar racing first before moving to NASCAR, Ruston is focused solely on making it to the Sprint Cup world.

Patrick has given her great advice on what to expect, and Ruston has put those lessons into practice.

“I just asked her all she went through, how difficult it was, how she handled some situations because being a girl,” Ruston said of the first time she met Patrick two years ago. “You sometimes have to handle things a little bit different than the guys.”

Not only has she applied Patrick’s advice to her own career, the K&N Pro Series East driver is now finding herself being somewhat of a mentor to other young girls coming up through the racing ranks.

“Girls in go-karts, Legend cars and all that always ask me for advice,” Ruston said. “I just tell them that there’s a lot of people that are going to tell them they can’t do it, so I’ve always told them just not to let that get to them or into their head and use that as fire.

“Instead of fueling the fire, just use that to fight for what you want. That’s always been my goal, to prove everybody wrong.”

The 22-year-old El Reno, Okla., native has come a long way in a relatively short period of time, having started racing at the age of 13.

“I grew up around racing,” Ruston said. “My dad grew up racing motorcycles, dirt bikes and stuff, and that’s what I wanted to do. But he never would let me on a dirt bike, so when he remarried, my stepmom’s grandfather raced dirt cars. I was always around the track, scraping dirt and all that. I was always hands-on and I told my dad this was something that I really want to try.

“We went to a track in Texas where you can rent a school car for like $20 bucks for 10 laps. A funny story, some guy came up to my dad and said, ‘Hey, your son would be really good if he was in a (race) car.’ My dad told him, ‘That’s not my son, that’s my daughter.’ I was 13 back then. I got my own (Bandalero) car a few months later and started racing.”

Her apprenticeship was admittedly rough not just due to oftentimes rough treatment from male drivers as well as her own mistakes. But once Ruston got the hang of things, she began advancing quickly.

After moving to the ranks of Legends cars at the age of 16, she enjoyed outstanding success.

“That summer I got like 39 wins or something,” Ruston said. “I won the national championship and I told my father that I thought this was something I wanted to pursue and to make it my career. I moved to Charlotte the next year when I was 17 and I’ve been chasing the dream ever since.”

She’s definitely on the right track.

Last year in K&N Pro Series East, she finished sixth in the final standings, the highest finish by a female driver in series history. She started 14 races and finished with four top-five and six top-10s.

This season, with one race remaining next week at Dover, Del., she’s eighth in the standings after 15 races, with three top-fives and seven top-10s.

She also became the highest-finishing female driver in K&N Series history when she finished runner-up at Iowa Speedway last month.

She’s in good company: she’s racing this season for Ben Kennedy Racing. Kennedy is the great-grandson of late NASCAR founder Bill France, Jr., the grandson of the late Bill France Jr., and son of International Speedway Corporation president Lisa France Kennedy.

Ruston, who turns 23 next month, is the only female member of this year’s NASCAR Next class, but with the racing chops she has acquired over the last decade-plus, she’s at home with other young up-and-coming drivers such as Ben Rhodes, Erik Jones, Gray Gaulding, Brandon McReynolds (son of Fox Sports NASCAR analyst Larry) and others.

Ruston expects to return to the K&N Series for a third straight year next season, but definitely has aspirations of moving up from there and eventually into NASCAR’s three pro ranks.

“I’ve never wanted to move up too fast,” Ruston said. “I’ve never wanted to go faster than my abilities. I’ve always wanted to prove myself at every level.

“My ideal next five years, I’d like to run one more season in K&N while also running five or six Truck races and then maybe a full Truck schedule the following year, stay in Trucks for a couple of years, and then move on to the Nationwide Series.”

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Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi bring their storied rivalry to a new level at Rolex 24

Ganassi Penske Rolex 24
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – To measure the impact of Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi squaring off for the first time in overall sports car wins (starting at the Rolex 24), look at the auto racing titans’ lineups.

There are 12 combined drivers across four entries representing Chip Ganassi Racing (competing as Cadillac Racing) and Team Penske (as Porsche Penske Motorsport) in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona.

And with the possible exception of six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, none of those behind the wheel is as famous and accomplished as the U.S. motorsports icons who will be sitting atop the pit stands at Daytona International Speedway.

In the NTT IndyCar Series, Penske and Ganassi are synonymous with success, having combined for 23 Indy 500 victories and 30 championships. They also competed in the NASCAR Cup Series for two decades with several signature wins for each.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN GTPRolex 24 at Daytona kicks off new golden era for sports cars

Until now, the rivalry never extended to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where they competed in different classes from 2018-19 and have competed in the top category in differing times over the years.

But the 2023 season opener at Daytona will mark the beginning of a new era in which Ganassi and Penske will compete for sports car overall victories on two continents. A Ganassi Cadillac Racing V-LMDh and Porsche Penske Motorsports Penske 963 will run full time in both the premier prototype divisions of IMSA and the European-based World Endurance Championship – whose crown jewel is the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Having two of the world’s biggest sports car races welcome the Ganassi-Penske battle seems only fitting in a season in which IMSA’s new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class is expected to introduce a stiffer level of competition.

“We obviously like beating each other,” Ganassi told NBC Sports. “I think if you beat Penske, you know you’ve beaten someone. You’ve accomplished something great. It’s going to be the same as always. Just another platform at another track, but the rivalry will be just as heated I’m sure.

“On one hand, he’s always the first guy to call us out for a penalty or something. On the other hand, he’s also the first guy to congratulate me on a win, so I think it’s a healthy rivalry, but we certainly pound each other’s heads into the ground on race day. Monday through Friday it switches to more of a good relationship.”

After starting his career in sports cars, Penske also is looking forward to having a new arena to race Ganassi.

“There is a lot of anticipation and excitement about the Rolex 24 and the upcoming sports car season overall,” Penske said in a statement to NBC Sports statement. “With the new hybrid prototype formula ready to make its debut, and some great competition expected on the track between teams, drivers and manufacturers, there is a lot of momentum building right now. Porsche Penske Motorsport is excited to compete in both the IMSA WeatherTech Championship, as well as the FIA World Endurance Championship, this season and I can’t wait to see the No. 6 and No. 7 Porsche 963s in action at Daytona this weekend. We also look forward to bringing some new rivalries and storylines to the sport.

Roger Penske confers with Chip Ganassi before the 2013 Honda Indy Toronto (Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports Images).

“In the new IMSA GTP class, there should be a good competitive balance between Porsche, Cadillac, Acura and BMW. We have seen how the rivalry between Team Penske and Ganassi Racing has developed in the NTT IndyCar Series in recent years, and that could certainly extend to sports cars as our teams and drivers continue to develop the new formula and push the production on track in both IMSA and WEC. We will see how the competition plays out, starting this weekend, as we always enjoy racing against Chip and his teams.”

Though there have been some fiery moments over the years (Dario Franchitti vs. Will Power, anyone?), Ganassi vs. Penske mostly has been a story of respect between two organizations whose main strengths are people.

“It’s just the depth of the organizations going up against each other,” Ganassi said. “It’s not just he and I. It’s at every level of the organization.

“We’re smaller. I’d like to think we’re a little more nimble. This is all I do is race cars. I don’t have 200 car dealerships or a truck rental company or a transportation company. I just have racing is all I have.”

Heading into Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, here are the thoughts of Ganassi and Penske drivers in the Rolex 24 at Daytona:

Earl Bamber, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “When I grew up as a kid, I remember watching Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske battle each other for many years, obviously following Scott Dixon and his career in IndyCar (Bamber is a New Zealand native like Dixon). And when the opportunity came up to come and race for Chip, it’s a no-brainer. It’s one of those teams you want to drive for in the world. It’s one of the biggest and most successful teams in the world. And then we’ve got Porsche, where I used to drive, with Penske. It’s going to be a phenomenal rivalry over the next couple of years and that rivalry continues between two absolute legends of our sport. Two people who have been the most successful. I hope we can get Cadillac and Chip their first Le Mans win. That’s obviously the ultimate goal for us and beat his old rival, Roger.

“Those two powerhouses of the sport, they definitely raise the bar. You’ve seen it in IndyCar for years and years. One finds something and the next pushes it forward and forward. You’ll see the same in sports car racing. We all saw what Chip Ganassi Racing did back in the day with the GT program. So no doubt we can do the same again. It’s the ultimate highest level of motorsport when it comes to sports car racing, and there’ll be no stone unturned to make sure that we’re winning these races. It will be a really great fight, great for the fans and great for the sport, because both of them love winning.”

Dane Cameron, No. 6 Porsche Penske: “I think anytime you have Chip and Roger come to town to start fighting for wins, it raises the profile of the whole thing. Hopefully it brings a few more eyes to everything. Certainly brings a lot of expectation with it as well, and I also think it reflects really strongly on the championship to show how competitive it is. They respect the championship and challenge, but when they come to town, they come to win for sure.”

Scott Dixon, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “The battle between Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske is always a fierce one. I obviously know it well from the IndyCar side. But I think it’s a lot more than that. It’s impressive to see a lot of the manufacturers that have come in for this battle. I imagine if it’s not from the first race but during the season that Penske and Ganassi will fight it out pretty hard.

“I think the rivalry between Chip Ganassi racing and Penske has always been strong and in a good way. There’s been some battles and the 2010s for me and other drivers when it gets fierce. Some disagreements here and there. But it’s always been a great pure battle, which is what I think these championships are made of and what brings the fans to the track. So I’d sum it up as a very healthy rivalry.”

Alex Lynn, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “Even as a little boy (growing up in England), you knew exactly who Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi were. You knew what their teams represented. For me to represent Chip and his team is a huge honor. I’m extremely motivated to try to add to his legacy and be part of the fabric of this team. I think having the battle between Penske and Ganassi is iconic. Also Porsche and Cadillac as brands, respectively, just adds to the occasion. Makes me smile even thinking about it knowing what we get to represent when the flag drops.”

Felipe Nasr, No. 7 Porsche Penske: “I think it’s fantastic especially because we’re merging the IMSA and WEC Series and giving the opportunity for teams like Penske and Ganassi to fight for overall victories. You look at the history of those teams, they’ve been on top. We always hear it from the IndyCar guys or the NASCAR side, you’re talking two big names in motorsports. You expect nothing but them fighting for wins. For sure Ganassi has strengths, and we have strengths as well. I’m pretty glad I have the opportunity to be representing Team Penske and continue to write history with them and Porsche is a great opportunity.”

Richard Westbrook, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “The chance for the two most famous teams in America to go head to head in the Daytona 24 Hours and also the Le Mans 24 Hours. I expect that rivalry to keep going up more notches.”

Renger van der Zande, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “Obviously, it’s such the big houses of racing in the U.S. Penske and Ganassi are taking it at each other. The rivalry is big. The best of the best. The most famous ones in the U.S.

“Ganassi is part of Cadillac. We’re the race team that runs the factory program for Cadillac. Penske is running it for Porsche, obviously a high brand as well. Those teams have their little rivalry, but they’re working for a bigger company, a bigger brand, which is Cadillac and Porsche. So those two premium brands taking on each other and then two of the best teams in America taking on each other. It’s very simple: Cadillac got the best team in the U.S. and Porsche got the best team in the U.S. So let’s see what happens. It’s going to be a cool fight.”