It’s not meant to be a slight, but many drivers set to run Friday in the Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas Speedway hope the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is a pit stop on the road to greater things rather than a destination.
Eventually, drivers such as Tyler Reddick, who currently sits in second place only two points behind two-time reigning champion Matt Crafton, and Ben Kennedy, who comes from the most influential family in motorsports, hope to land a ride in the Sprint Cup Series.
First, Reddick and Kennedy and the other young guns must prove themselves worthy on one of NASCAR’s secondary circuits.
“There’s a lot of hope and a lot of potential in the Truck Series,” said Kennedy, who is in his second season running trucks. “These series are really about proving yourself and trying to get up to that next level. It definitely is my goal, too. I’d like to make it up to the Cup Series eventually, but I’m really just taking it one step at a time and seeing what I can do.”
Even for Kennedy — whose great grandfather, William H.G. France, co-founded NASCAR; whose grandfather, Bill France Jr., was a longtime NASCAR president; whose mother, Lesa France Kennedy, is a vice chairperson for NASCAR and the CEO for International Speedway Corp. (which owns and constructed Kansas Speedway); and whose uncle, Brian France, is NASCAR’s current CEO and chairman — there are no shortcuts to the Cup Series.
“I really want to earn my way up the ladder, and I think competitors and officials understand that,” Kennedy said. “That’s what I want. I want the toughest competition out there. On race day, I want the toughest process to make it up there, so if I do make it up to the top series I’ve proven myself to get up there.”
It’s also a wise strategy, especially for drivers from a dirt-track or short-track racing background.
“If somebody were to just jump into the Cup Series, they probably would be overwhelmed,” said Austin Theriault, who will drive the No. 29 Cooper Standard Ford for Brad Keselowski Racing in the truck race this weekend. “Unless they’re just pure, pure, pure talent.
“So much of it is experience from what I’ve seen, living through it and making the mistakes. If you can run well in the Trucks Series, you can make some of those mistakes, but it might be a little bit more forgiving than if you just jump into the Cup Series.”
There are big hurdles to overcome, like learning how to draft or side-draft in cars with better aerodynamics than anything used in sprint-car or late-model racing or simply getting used to slick radial tires.
The faster speed also is a big adjustment, especially at longer tracks such as Kansas Speedway’s 1 1/2-mile tri-oval, where drivers generally run full throttle all the way around the track.
“It’s totally different and it’s taken me a little time (to get used to it),” Theriault said. “As a driver, it’s a lot of confidence.”
Going that fast in dense traffic, while thrilling, also can be hair-raising, but it’s also the little things that many race fans take for granted that can flummox younger drivers.
“I learned a little bit on the track (last year), but I think it’s more so all the small things that really go into it,” said Kennedy, who won the pole and finished fourth earlier this season at Atlanta. “Small things that, as a driver coming into the series, I honestly took for granted and didn’t really think about — coming down pit road and making a pit stop. It’s things as simple as that, stopping in your box and pulling out of your box.”
Racing started as a family affair for Reddick, who cut his teeth on a two-man team with his father, Clarence.
Now, with Brad Keselowski Racing, he’s part of a crew of more than two dozen.
“You’ve always got something to prove every given day,” he said. “You always want to prove someone wrong, I guess, on the racetrack. … More than anything, we just want to prove to ourselves we’re a team that can contend for a win each given race.”
Ultimately, winning is the best path to the Sprint Cup Series, and that will be the goal Friday night under the lights.