AZTEC — Alex Kennedy has been racing since he was a 7-year-old in Aztec. Fourteen years later, he is getting his shot to crack the big time in NASCAR's top series.
Kennedy will attempt to qualify for Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway during qualifying Saturday.
It is his first Sprint Cup qualifying opportunity after competing in 14 NASCAR Nationwide Series races since 2010.
"I'm extremely excited for this opportunity to run my Sprint Cup debut," Kennedy said. "I'm going in as an empty glass. These cars have more power, 900 horsepower, than their Nationwide counterparts, 750 horse power. Once I'm comfortable with the car, we should be good to go."
California's Sonoma Raceway is a 1.99-mile road course featuring 12 turns. Kennedy has long thrived on road courses, and he made his Nationwide debut in 2010 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisc., where he finished 28th. Nine of his 14 Nationwide starts have come on road courses, but Kennedy hasn't raced since August of last year.
As a child, Kennedy also spent time racing at Sonoma in Legends Car races.
"I feel better about my chances at Sonoma. Road courses require more driver and that allowed me to run a mildly funded team against the big boys," Kennedy said.
Kennedy isn't sure what to expect this weekend when he runs against the biggest names in the sport, but gaining the experience at the top level of racing will be a win no matter what happens.
"I grew up watching these guys and now I get to compete with them," he said. "Honestly, I want seat time and just to run all the laps on Sunday. Anything more than that is a large bonus, in my eyes. Obviously, I want to show my talent, but I also need to bring the car home and earn the respect of the Cup guys."
Kennedy will drive the No. 19 MediaMaster/Dream Factory Toyota stock car this weekend, the last car Jason Leffler drove on June 9 before being killed in a dirt track racing accident on June 12.
"It is special only because it was the last NASCAR race he was in. We will all still have him on our minds and have Charlie in our prayers," Kennedy said, referring to Leffler's 5-year-old son.
Kennedy said the support he has from his family and friends in Aztec have helped him reach this stage, and it will help push him this weekend.
"I'm fondly called Ricky Bobby by most of the kids I grew up with," Kennedy said. "I wouldn't be able to do this without my family and friends. They have been there since day one for me. My fans around town are pretty cool. To them, I'm their hometown boy they've been rooting for for a couple of years. Outside the area I have star-struck fans who want autographs when they see me. At home, I'm just Alex -- their driver. It's actually quite nice."
Qualifying for Sunday's race will air at noon Saturday on SPEED TV.