AZTEC — Alex Kennedy didn't start a race through the first four months of the 2013 NASCAR schedule, but the young driver has made the most of recent opportunities on road courses.
Kennedy, a 2010 graduate of Aztec High School, has made four starts -- including three in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series -- in the last three months. The 21-year-old made his Sprint Cup Series debut on June 23 at Sonoma Raceway in California and finished his first Sprint Cup race a week ago at Watkins Glen International in New York.
"This experience has been absolutely fantastic. Getting to attempt a Cup race has been my dream since I was young, and here we are three in," Kennedy said.
Kennedy finished 29th at Watkins Glen, one car ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. On Saturday, Kennedy ran his first Nationwide Series race of the season at the Mid-Ohio and also finished 29th. He brought beat up cars to the finish line in both races. At Watkins Glen, Kennedy's No. 19 MediaMaster Toyota lost its secondary fuel pump halfway through the race and, on Saturday, his No. 24 SR2 Motorsports car lost its right front shock. Kennedy got loose on the road course at one point, putting the car in the sand.
He was pleased about completing 90 of he 94 laps and bringing the car to the finish line, but felt he was capable of a much higher finish at Watkins Glen in the Sprint Cup race.
"Finishing the Glen was fantastic. However, with our car messing up, it was frustrating," he said. "I lined up 21st for the final restart and felt I could've continued forward. On a track as high speed as Watkins Glen, motor is everything. Without it, we were just surviving."
Kennedy had bad luck in his first two races in NASCAR's top division. At Sonoma, he turned just 30 laps after being run into on pit road early. His Humphrey Smith Racing car lasted just 22 laps at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., on Aug. 11 as Kennedy and his team battled bad vibrations in the car.
He has earned respect from his team for his ability to fight through adversity and keep a positive attitude through the process.
"He is easy to work with. It makes it a lot easier when you are working with a down to earth kid," said Peter Sospenzo, Kennedy's crew chief on the No. 19 Humphrey Smith Racing MediaMaster team. "He is very composed and his voice never changes when he is in the car. He is very relaxed and calm. He has no nerves at all. He belongs there."
Kennedy said he doesn't think about the big names he is racing against while he is on the track, but he still finds himself in awe at times in the garages.
"I may have gotten used to the car and handling it, but seeing guys like (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and (Marcos) Ambrose line up next to me for practice still makes my stomach leap," he said. "These are the best in the world in stock cars and I'm in their race."
Kennedy isn't under a contract and is racing for no compensation at the moment. Without a big sponsorship, Kennedy is at the whim of the racing teams while he waits for his next offer to pilot a car for a week.
"The biggest thing for Alex is getting more seat time. He is great on road courses and needs to get on some ovals, too," Sospenzo said. "He needs funding and sponsors. Once he gets some money and experience behind him, he will go even further."
Sospenzo hopes to work with Kennedy more as his career progresses.
"I know his dad Terry is talking about getting sponsor money to run the two road courses and Pocono next year. Getting to Phoenix this year would be good for him, too," he said. "Time will tell. All he needs is one good run and to catch someone's eye at the right place and right time."
Kennedy said he will bide his time until his full-time driving opportunity arises.
"I'm going to have to be patient and pray we get sponsorship," he said.John Livingston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.