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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Ben Kennedy is ready to roll for 2013, with his sights set squarely on running for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship.
First, though, the 21-year-old Daytona Beach native has plans for an historic homecoming.
Kennedy confirmed to Daytona Beach News-Journal Saturday evening he plans to enter the inaugural UNOH Battle At The Beach at Daytona International Speedway. The non-points event will take place on a .4-mile oval on the backstretch of the “World Center of Racing,” and will mark the first time a member of the France family will race a stock car at the track his great grandfather, Bill France Sr., built.
For Kennedy, it’s a continuation of his racing education. He is entering his third season running in NASCAR’s top developmental series.
“I’ve learned a lot as a driver,” said Kennedy, a junior at the University of Florida. “Running our own race shop, we’re really learned a lot of different things. Time management has been key the last couple years, staying busy between school, racing and training.
“Coming back during the summer, it’s been cool to learn the whole business aspect of the race team.”
Kennedy credited crew chief Mike Fritts, who runs the team’s shop out of Daytona, with the progress the team has made over the last two years. The team shares a shop with the Grand-Am team, Spirit of Daytona.
In 2011, Kennedy finished 13th in points with his best finish coming in a third-place run at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. Last year, Kennedy had three top fives and nine top 10s en route to a ninth-place finish in points. He also recorded his first career pole award at Ohio’s Columbus Motor Speedway.
“From short tracks to the K&N Pro Series is a huge step for anyone,” said Kennedy, who won a Super Late Model title at Orlando Speedworld before making the step up. “The first year, we were really getting our feet wet. Last year, we started getting our stuff together. I think this year will be even better.”
Kennedy got a boost of confidence last summer when he went over to Tours, France, for the inaugural oval race in the Euro Racecar Series. The season was the first under the NASCAR banner, and Kennedy made history by winning the event, the Michelin 100. It was made even sweeter with his family in attendance to watch.
“It’s cool to say you have a NASCAR win under your belt,” Kennedy said. “It was also cool to come back and perform so well after that.”
In his first race back in the United States, Kennedy scored a seventh-place finish at CNB Bank Raceway Park in Clearfield, Pa. He sat on the pole in the very next race, and also had a fourth at Dover (Del.) International Speedway and finished the season with a ninth at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway.
Race winners and series champions have earned locked-in spots into the respective series for the UNOH Battle At The Beach, which features a race for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tours and the Late Model Division of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
Because Kennedy’s Euro Racecar win does not carry over to the K&N Pro Series, he’ll need to race his way into the main event through the afternoon’s heat races.
“It’s definitely going to be a very unique track,” Kennedy said. “I think it will be good for the whole NASCAR Home Tracks program to run at Daytona during Speedweeks.
“I know we're all going to be biting our nails,” Kennedy said. “We want to qualify and not tear up anything in the heat race, and then we go out there and give them a good show when the evening comes around.”