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August 6, 2014

Kenzie Ruston

JENNIE LONG:  Now joining us is NASCAR Next driver Kenzie Ruston, who drives the No.96 Bully Hill Vineyards Chevrolet for Ben Kennedy Racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.  Kenzie is coming off a second‑place finish at Iowa Speedway, which is the highest finish for a female driver in K&N Pro Series history.  Kenzie, thanks for joining us today.
KENZIE RUSTON:  Thank you, guys.  Should be an exciting weekend up at Watkins Glen.
JENNIE LONG:  You're coming off your best run of the year and headed to the series' first road course, one of two in a row.  Can you give us your thoughts heading into the weekend as well as what you're looking forward to with the opportunity to turn left and right?
KENZIE RUSTON:  Should be really exciting.  I always loved the road course races last year, and it's really cool that we get to go to one of the road courses that the Cup guys run on every year.  Last year we didn't really go to road courses that the Cup guys raced on, so it didn't really, I guess, transfer all the information, so it's really cool that we get to go and experience some of that stuff that the Cup guys do, and I'm really excited to have Bully Hill Vineyards on the car this weekend.  Just a really cool opportunity.  I know they've been involved in racing for a long time, it's just really cool for them to be back involved in the sport, and should be a really good weekend.

Q.  I don't know if you've taken this into consideration, and certainly in the past with female drivers like in NHRA and obviously what happened with Danica in NASCAR, you have a tendency to be able to draw a bigger fan base because you get males who tend to favor a female driver and then you get an extra group of females that look at you as a role model.  Have you ever taken that into consideration, that that's what's on the line for you as you get good results?
KENZIE RUSTON:  Yeah, for sure.  I mean, being a female in the sport I guess it's always drawn more attention to you on and off the track.  I think it's really cool that there is females in racing trying to prove something that a female hasn't really proven yet in racing.  I mean, your fan base I feel like is your fan base and you just try to communicate with your fans on social media or do as many things as you can.  I feel like I'm a racer, so I don't really put too much thought into how many more fans I have than the other guys out on the track.  I think it's really cool that people support women in racing, and I'm just out there trying to be the best driver I can be.

Q.  What's been the most challenging part for you so far racing in the K&N Series?
KENZIE RUSTON:  Just the different tracks you go to.  I feel like my first year last year, my rookie year, I struggled at some of the bigger places, and I feel like this year I've kind of got my hand on a couple of the big tracks.  But I think just going to those bigger places, I've always been a short track racer because I grew up on short tracks, and just getting used to those bigger places has definitely been a struggle for me, and the competition every time you move up just gets harder and harder, and I feel like the competition this year is even more stout than it was last year.  Everything about it is just more competitive and definitely it's different competition.

Q.  I was wondering what kind of impact Ben Kennedy has had on your career in the K&N Series this year.
KENZIE RUSTON:  He's had a huge impact.  I definitely wouldn't be racing this year if it wasn't for him and his family giving me the opportunity to be in this Ben Kennedy Racing Chevrolet this year.  He's definitely helped me a lot any time I have a question.  I learned a lot from him last year even being in the NASCAR Next program becoming friends with him, and he's just so welcoming.  Any time you go ask him a question, he's the nicest guy to ask a question to and he always gives you an honest answer that you're asking for.  He's definitely been a huge, huge stepping‑stone in my career, especially in the K&N Pro Series.

Q.  And you've picked up sponsorship for this week's race at Watkins Glen from Bully Hill Vineyards, the sponsor of the K&N Series East.  Can you tell us how important that is for you to have a sponsor like that believe in you this weekend.
KENZIE RUSTON:  I think it's so cool.  Ms.Lillian Taylor is just so into racing and so into her sports, it's really cool to see other women so passionate about racing and sports, and I think it's just really cool that she came on board.  She's always sponsored men, and I think it's really cool that she kind of came on board with me and Ben Kennedy this weekend.
I just hope we can kind of go out there‑‑ I talked to the guys this morning, and they were in the shop until 5:00 this morning getting the car ready.  We're definitely prepared and hopefully can go out there and run for a top 5 and maybe get that victory at the end of the week.

Q.  Your experiences here with Ben Kennedy Racing, has it been everything that you thought it would be?
KENZIE RUSTON:  For sure.  I mean, it's definitely more of a challenge than last year.  I feel like Ben being down in Daytona, it's more of a challenge just with even communication.  Last year with Turner Scott Motorsports I was in the shop every day, and it's a little harder to get used to everything.  It's been harder to get the communication just right off the bat.  But I feel like everything is flowing now, and I feel like we've had some really good weeks, and we've got our morale up and we've got our confidence up.  We've kind of been on a roll the last couple weeks, so hopefully we can just roll that on into Watkins Glen this weekend.

Q.  I'm looking at the winners this season in the series.  The last four races have four different winners.  Do you think you can add your name and extend this streak here?
KENZIE RUSTON:  For sure, for sure.  I thought this last weekend we were going to have a little something for him and get our name on the win list, but I definitely think that these last four races we're going to give it our all, and hopefully we can get it done at Watkins Glen, but if not we have three more races this year that we can definitely get it done at one of those.

Q.  Have you had a chance to do any testing at a road course in preparation for these next two races?
KENZIE RUSTON:  We have not.  We've been really, really putting all our effort into getting the car right, and this is a brand new car that we've built for the road course races.  They didn't have a road course car last year, so they've been putting all their preparation into getting this car right so we can come out at Watkins Glen and get us a victory.  I have not been able to get any testing in, but hopefully‑‑ I have a lot of help from Ryan Eversley here on the Continental Tire Sports Car Series, and he gave me a pretty big notebook on Watkins Glen, and I have a shift map and everything, so I've been studying my hardest, so hopefully we can just put all that into this weekend.

Q.  Have you ever been up this way, upstate New York, to the Watkins Glen area or surrounding communities?
KENZIE RUSTON:  Well, we came up in July and announced the race and announced our sponsorship with Bully Hill, and we came up and stayed in Watkins Glen and we visited Bully Hill Vineyards and all the finger lakes.  It is probably the most beautiful place I've been in the United States thus far.  It's gorgeous and all the hills and the finger lakes being in these huge valleys.  It's definitely a beautiful area.

Q.  You mentioned that scouting report that you've been handed.  What are some of the challenges or some things that stick out that present the biggest challenge for you?
KENZIE RUSTON:  Oh, just road course racing at all.  I haven't grown up doing a lot of road course racing, and I've never‑‑ I've watched races on‑‑ I've watched all kinds of races on Watkins Glen, but I've never been there in person.  I didn't get to visit the track when I was up there in July.  Kind of just ran out of time, missing a flight and stuff.  Just the whole track, never being able to see it in person, is definitely going to be a huge challenge.  But hopefully the notes I have that he wrote up for me will help me out, and the biggest thing he emphasized was the bus stop, so hopefully we can really learn that corner.  I heard that was one of the biggest parts of the racetrack.

Q.  The weather up here has been pretty crazy, rain on and off, and I'm sure you experienced some while you were here.  How much do you guys pay attention to that in the week leading up to the race or even the weekend itself?
KENZIE RUSTON:  I mean, you definitely pay attention to it.  I mean, we don't have to run in the rain, so that's definitely a good deal because I probably would struggle in the rain a little bit.  But I mean, it's definitely something you look into, especially when you qualify and stuff like that, how hot it's going to be and what the temperature was when you were practicing and what the track temp is and everything.  It's all stuff that you think about and have to put towards maybe the car is going to be a little freer in qualifying if the track temp is 20 degrees hotter.  It's all things that you think about, and hopefully it don't rain.  I feel like the chances of rain is kind of slim this weekend as I was looking yesterday, so hopefully the rain kind of stays out.  Maybe if we just get a little drizzle here and there, we'll be able to dry the track pretty quick and get back on it because I need all the practice I can get; I can tell you that.

Q.  Out of the next three tracks coming up, which track are you most excited about?
KENZIE RUSTON:  I'm really excited about Greenville.  We've had a lot of success at Greenville.  It's a short track.  It's kind of where I come from.  I love my short track racing.  That's definitely one of my favorite tracks that we go to all year.  I know a lot of people hate going there and kind of despise going there, but I think it's a really cool track, and I think you kind of put all your driving into it.  It's a driver's track for sure, and you've got to save, and it's a huge mental game.  That's definitely where I feel like sometimes I shine.

Q.  Take us through that race in Iowa and just in general, did that race have a different feel for you when you got in the car and I thought, okay, this might be my night, and then you nearly did it?
KENZIE RUSTON:  Well, I feel like as soon as we unloaded off the truck, I had a lot of confidence.  We didn't have that raw speed right off the truck, but we had a really, really good race pace.  I had a really good feeling about the weekend.  I'm not the best qualifier, and I need to get better at that for sure.  I didn't have a lot of confidence in our qualifying run, and I would be happy if we qualified top 15, and we qualified 16th.  I felt like that was right about where we would qualify, and in the race I kind of just steadily moved up, moved up, moved up, and we were running right around the bottom, and then Sergio Peña kind of moved up to the top groove and was like a half a second faster than the field and caught everybody off guard right before the break, and I tried to go up there and we were way, way, way too tight to run at the top.
We made huge adjustments at the break.  We went like five rounds up on the track bar and put a rubber in the right rear and a couple other little things to free me up so we could run up top, and definitely that's one of the best changes we have made at a break this year.  I think the car really came to life, and it showed.
It was disheartening that those four guys pitted too soon and they had to start at the back because I really feel like it would have been cool to challenge Ben Rhodes and challenge Jesse Little and challenge Kyle Benjamin.  It sucks to kind of lose a race like that.  But I feel like we still had the best car there at the end.  We were chasing Brandon Jones down as fast as we could, just kind of ran out of laps.  I got a bad restart that last restart, spun my tires a little bit, and let Cole Custer and Ben get away from me, and I had to chase everybody back down.  But I just can't thank my guys for working their tails off this weekend and giving me a good car.
I wasn't that confident in taking our steel car there.  We haven't had the best luck with our steel car this year at the big places, but I feel like we made huge, huge adjustments on it before coming to Iowa this weekend, and I feel like it definitely paid off.  It's disheartening me being a racer knowing we had the best car right there at the end, but I feel like in another sense it was kind of a win starting 16th and being my best finish on a big track and even their best finish on a big track.

Q.  It seems like you and your team have juggled a lot this weekend and your confidence is absolutely there where you're just a break or two away from winning a race.  How much would it mean for you to win a race for Ben Kennedy Racing, whether it be at Watkins Glen or next week or sometime before the end of the year?
KENZIE RUSTON:  Oh, it would mean the world to me.  Winning races is what it's all about.  That's why we get in the car every weekend.  When you're winning races, your name gets out there, and that's what you've got to do.  You've got to win races and have good weekends, and hopefully we can do that before the year is up.  Should be super exciting when I win my first K&N race.

Q.  I remember I asked you this before, but you've had a little bit of time since then.  You win that race, are we going to see a little special victory celebration in victory lane or on the racetrack?
KENZIE RUSTON:  Yeah, I haven't quite figured out what I'd do for my victory celebration yet.  I don't know what I'd do.  I mean, especially like a burnout or something like that, maybe go around the track backwards.  I don't know, we'll see.  We'll have to figure it out when the time gets here.  It might just be spur of the moment.

Q.  Being a female driver, can you explain to the fans how much the situation has changed?  In other words, how much more has it opened up for the ladies?  And what advice would you give to other females who would love to get into racing?
KENZIE RUSTON:  Being a female definitely has its ups and downs for sure.  When I was first starting out when I was 14 and I was racing other 12‑ to 14‑year‑old boys, I felt like it was a lot harder then.  I feel like the little boys never want to get beat by a little girl, and I feel like you got crashed a lot more often, I guess.  But I feel like the move I've moved up, if you treat people with respect and you gain their respect, they respect you and they'll race you clean.  I feel like in the K&N Series that's what it's all about.  If you gain somebody's respect‑‑ you just race people like they race you.  I feel like that's what I strive to be better at.  I feel like that's kind of the moral of racing.  I feel like it's all about respect and how people race each other, but for any little girl growing up racing, your local dirt track or Legend cars or Bandoleros or anything like that, I've always been told girls didn't belong in racing, they'd never make it or they never had as much talent, enough talent to race the big racetracks.  They would never like the loose feeling in, a lot of things that you get at the big tracks that people say that girls would never be good at.
You can do anything you set your mind to, and if that's being Jimmie Johnson or just being the next Danica, but you always strive to be your best, and don't ever give up, especially if somebody tells you you can't do it.
JENNIE LONG:  Kenzie, thanks so much for joining us today, and good luck this weekend at Watkins Glen.

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