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TOURS, France -– Ben Kennedy turned a historic first for the Euro-Racecar Series into a historic first for his young racing career.
The 20-year-old Daytona Beach, Fla., driver -- the great-grandson of NASCAR-founder Bill France Sr. -- drove to his first NASCAR victory Saturday afternoon in the Michelin 100 at Tour Speedway in France. It was the first NASCAR-sanctioned oval race in Europe, a monumental step for the European-based touring series in its first year under the NASCAR banner.
"It's amazing," said Kennedy, who is in his second full season racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. "I had everything new to learn coming here: car, circuit, and tires.
"The competition is very tight and the drivers are very skilled, which makes this victory even more special. Euro-Racecar has done a great job. The atmosphere and spirit around this event is tremendous. It really makes me want to return."
Euro-Racecar, founded in 2008, has run on the road courses at Nogaro in France, Brands Hatch in England and Spa in Belgium already this season, and the temporary course at Tours’ Parc des Expositions was constructed over the last month.
"Today was a true Cinderella story," said George Silbermann, NASCAR vice president of regional and touring series, who was on hand to witness the event. "The first ever oval race in Europe under a NASCAR banner won by the great grandson of NASCAR's founder in his first ever NASCAR win.
"And a packed house of enthusiastic French fans went crazy. This was a huge milestone for the Euro Racecar, NASCAR and our efforts to spur stock car racing abroad.
"In true European fashion, they played the national anthem of the winning driver's country as part of victory lane celebrations and a lot of us got goosebumps.
Kennedy will have another chance to celebrate Sunday.
Euro-Racecar's race weekends are divided into two races for its top (Elite) Division. Sunday's Tours Evenement 100 will be lined up based on fastest single lap times from Saturday's race.
The path to Victory Lane Saturday for Kennedy wasn't easy.
For starters, wet conditions on the temporary .4-mile oval in Tours -- located two hours outside Paris -- presented a challenge to all the drivers.
Kennedy was seventh fastest in the 19-car field in Saturday morning's qualifying.
He was able to drive his way to the front by the halfway point, making a three-wide pass for the lead on Javier Villa (No. 64 Gonneau Racing) and pole sitter Romain Fournillier (No. 11 OverDrive-McDonald's) on Lap 50.
From there, Kennedy weathered a pair of cautions to secure the win by 1.427 seconds over Dimitri Enjalbert (No. 33 OverDrive).
Romain Thiévin (No. 99 Still Racing-Exotics Racing) finished third, followed by Antoine Lioen (No. 05 Rapido Racing), and Yann Zimmer (No. 18 Scorpus Racing). Fournillier dropped back to sixth, while points leader Ander Vilarino (No. 2 TFT-Banco Santander) finished eighth.
Ben Kennedy (96) leads the way during the Michelin 100 at Tours Speedway in France Saturday. Stéphane Azémard/EURO-RACECAR