The third-generation Wisconsin racer prepares for truck debut at Martinsville Speedway.
Ross Kenseth has been waiting for the right opportunity to showcase his talent at NASCAR’s top levels.
On Tuesday, Kenseth, 22, took the next step with Hattori Racing Enterprises. Kenseth shook down the No. 18 Aisin-AW Toyota Tundra at Martinsville Speedway to prepare for the Kroger 200 on Oct.31.
“This is one place I’ve always wanted to race at,” Kenseth said. “I’ve seen a lot of exciting races here it seems to be the kind of track where younger kids like to get their start. Coming to a short track, I’ve run a lot of half-miles in Late Models the last couple of years, so I’m really looking forward to coming here.
“Having this test will be a big help. I’m looking forward to making my first start next weekend.”
Kenseth turned heads when he qualified the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota second at Chicagoland Speedway in June. He led a lap and finished sixth in his Xfinity Series debut. One week earlier, Kenseth won his first ARCA race at Michigan International Speedway. In four ARCA starts, Kesenth’s average finish is 3.5.
Although this is HRE’s first truck start of the season, team owner Shigeaki Hattori has hired veteran crew chief Pat Tryson to oversee Kenseth’s progress. Bobby Burrell will be the team’s crew chief.
Getting up to speed
Kenseth’s goals are to complete all 200 laps and avoid incident. He believes the key to a successful run is patience and not putting the truck in bad spot.
Working with guys like Pat and Bobby, they have a lot of experience at tracks like this which helps us get up to speed a little quicker.
“Pat said if we can come out of Martinsville with all the body panels in tact it would be a first for him,” Kenseth told motorsport.com with a laugh. “So if we can do that, I think we’ll have a decent day.
“Working with guys like Pat and Bobby, they have a lot of experience at tracks like this which helps us get up to speed a little quicker. They seem really sharp. The more we work together, the better chance we have of working well. Having this test session before we race will be a big help.”
Tryson spent 18 seasons as a Cup crew chief. He earned wins with Kurt Busch, Mark Martin and Elliott Sadler. Busch, who was also at Martinsville on Tuesday for a media appearance, told motorsport.com HRE could not have picked a better crew chief than Tryson to mentor Kenseth. He chatted with Tryson after taking the young driver around the race track and offering pointers.
“Kurt was a big help talking about how he approaches the place and how other guys approach it,” Kenseth added. “He pointed out a few things I did right. He pointed out some things I did wrong — which is always good. You can always take from guys that have had success and kind of apply it to what you’re doing. He’s been really good here, he’s got a couple of clocks, so he’s had success. I think every driver has their own unique input that you can take and definitely learn from.
“This is a real technical place. You see a lot of guys here that run smooth end up being pretty good here. I’m looking forward to it. Getting other trucks around will make a big difference as well. Testing is really about how you feel by yourself and getting some speed in it, so it should be a good weekend.”
Crew chief by committee
Burrell, a Hot Springs, Va. native, started working in NASCAR with the Wood Brothers in 1995 after graduating from Syracuse University with an engineering degree. The former tire changer, who transitioned to the pit box in 2011, has called races in both the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series.
“When I first came into racing, Leonard Wood told me, ‘I don’t care what kind of degree you’ve got, I’m going to teach you about race cars,’” Burrell said. “Being an engineer is great, but you also have to understand how to build race cars, what’s make them tick. Then apply that engineering knowledge to make it better. The problem with a lot of engineers is they have book knowledge but they lack the common knowledge it takes to race.”
Burrell believes Kenseth has the potential to be successful at this level.
“Ross has the talent and knowledge — I’ve seen it when he’s raced in other stories,” Burrell said. “But we’re all learning together, what he likes in the truck and what I can give to him. He is the future. He is an excellent driver and he offers great feedback. That’s real key. Without a driver being able to give feedback, there’s no way to properly tune the cars the way you need to.
“With Ross, he can tell me what the truck is doing, then I can bounce ideas off of Pat. Everything Ross has told us so far has enabled us to make the truck better. We’re in the ball park, we just need to find a little more speed. Ross is the real deal.”