Kennedy Earns First Truck Career Win With UNOH 200 Victory
The UNOH 200 ended with a driver celebrating his first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory.
This was no ordinary driver. Racing is in Ben Kennedy's DNA. The 24-year-old is the great grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France and the son of NASCAR vice chairperson Lesa France Kennedy.
But on this night, what he termed the coolest of his life, Kennedy's pedigree took a backseat to his abilities as a driver. He passed William Byron for the lead with 20 laps to go and kept his wits as Brett Moffitt tried to unnerve him over the final six laps.
The victory came in his 63rd start in the series.
"A lot of things haven't sunk in," Kennedy said. "To be honest, this win hasn't sunk in yet. Just crossing the finish line and seeing the checkered flag, it kind of seems like a blur in a way. It's really cool.
Kennedy opened the season driving the No. 11 that Moffitt piloted Wednesday. Also looking for his first Truck Series victory, Moffitt closed on Kennedy's bumper, even bumped him, but could not get past the No. 33 GMS Racing Chevrolet and finished 0.274 back.
Moffitt said he and Kennedy are neighbors and returned to the infield media center to congratulate Kennedy by pouring a bottle of water on him during the winner's interview.
"I'm going to race people the way I want to be raced," Moffitt said. "But it is Bristol so if you need to move someone you've got to move them. I just wasn't quite good enough through the center (of the corners) to get to him. He slipped up a few times and I was able to get to his bumper once but didn't get to him hard enough.
"I was really waiting for him to make a mistake, so I could shove my nose in there, but he executed when he needed to."
Also finishing in the top five were Daniel Hemric, Byron and Johnny Sauter. Christopher Bell led the most laps (101) and finished seventh behind Cole Custer.
Rain showers delayed the start of the race by 52 minutes. Once underway, drivers showed a preference for the low line around the track.
Looking to lower the racing groove in the turns and recreate the old Bristol, track officials opted to treat the bottom groove of the track ahead of the race weekend. The process included applying a resin and conditioning it with a tire machine, a similar method as is used in drag racing.
The difference was evident in Wednesday's practices. Lap times improved considerably in final practice compared to the opening practice when drivers kept to the high line. Any concerns the rain had washed away the added grip evaporated quickly.
Kyle Busch Motorsports teammates Daniel Suarez and Bell combined to lead all but one of the first 100 laps and 178 of the 200. Byron passed Suarez for the lead on Lap 180 and Suarez wrecked seven laps later. He finished 29th.
Brad Keselowski Racing driver Tyler Reddick earned his third career Camping World Truck Series pole and established a new series track qualifying record in the process. His 128.917 mph lap broke a series track record set by Ken Schrader back in 2004. Nine drivers in all eclipsed Schrader's long-held mark of 126.922 mph.
Suarez qualified second followed by ThorSport Racing teammates Cameron Hayley and rookies Ben Rhodes and Bell.
Reddick led the opening lap and finished 14th.
It was a tough night for ThorSport's drivers.
Two-time Truck Series champion Matt Crafton qualified 10th and showed an ability to move through the field in the early going. But as the field was preparing to return to green flag racing after being slowed for the race's fourth caution, Crafton pulled into the garage with an engine problem. He finished last in the 32-truck field.
Teammate Rico Abreu wrecked in qualifying and was forced to a back-up truck. He finished 26th. Rhodes went to the garage with engine trouble shortly before Hayley brought out the fifth caution after experiencing a tire issue. They finished 30th (Rhodes) and 24th (Hayley).
After the race, Kennedy spoke with his mother and said she was excited for him. So was he.
"I can't really put it into words," Kennedy said. "Honestly, it's the first time I've gotten emotional in a race car. Coming off of Turn 4, and knowing that you have the checkered flag, and seeing it at the start-finish line is real special. It's tough to put it into words but I'll remember this the rest of my life."