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NASCAR Promotes From Within For Chief Operating Officer And Senior VP Of Racing Development And Strategy

March 10, 2022

Two of NASCAR’s biggest proponents for innovation have been awarded new roles within the sanctioning body.

Steve O’Donnell has been promoted to chief operating officer, and Ben Kennedy has been named senior vice president of racing development and strategy. NASCAR announced the internal movement — effective immediately — Thursday in a news release.

“It’s just another opportunity to continue to push some initiatives with all the great teammates we have,” O’Donnell told “Both Ben and I really, really enjoy working with all the different stakeholders, and those projects, particularly around the schedule, allow you to work with the broadcast partners, the race teams to the race tracks. It makes it fun because you’re able to kind of touch all different aspects of the business.”

O’Donnell, whose previous title was executive vice president and chief racing development officer, will continue to oversee NASCAR’s competition and racing operations. His oversight will now also include track operations and strategic development.

Kennedy, meanwhile, is moving from the strategy and innovation sector (previously senior vice president there) to the competition department. He will, however, maintain oversight of schedule development.

“Going into the strategy and innovation side, there’s been a great opportunity to learn so many different facets of the business and areas that are quite frankly outside of my comfort zone,” Kennedy said. “But I think competition … it feels like it’s part of my DNA. … I’m excited to dive back into it. I have a lot of passion for this area.”

Kennedy was a race-car driver himself, competing full time at the touring and national levels from 2011-17. He’s also an active team owner, forming Ben Kennedy Racing in 2010. And he has worked in multiple corporate areas of the sport since he stepped out from behind the wheel. His first job within NASCAR was general manager of the Camping World Truck Series.

Kennedy is a crisp 30 years old.

“It’s just been really eye-opening — in terms of his work ethic — how quickly he’s been able to come up to speed,” O’Donnell said. “He went from someone, when we were first working on the Truck Series, who would not maybe say as much in a meeting to now he’s leading meetings, leading initiatives and really, really comfortable in his role. And for me, I’m just really happy to see him continue to grow.”

O’Donnell and Kennedy already have a successful history of working together. The two played an instrumental part in the NASCAR Cup Series’ schedule advancement in recent years. They were able to keep the sport running during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 with unprecedented doubleheaders and midweek shows. They introduced various new venues in 2021, such as Circuit of The America’s stock-car debut, Bristol Motor Speedway’s dirt track, Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course and Road America’s return after 65 years. And they pushed the envelope even further in 2022 with the inaugural Clash at the Coliseum, which required NASCAR to build a race track on top of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum’s football field.

“I don’t think it’s, say, change for change’s sake,” Kennedy said. “I think it’s change to be able to challenge ourselves. See if there are different ways that we could do things or ways that we can improve things, but do it measured and calculated, too. … Some of those ideas are probably a little more bold than they were two or three years ago, but I think those are for the right reasons, so we’ve got a lot of cool ideas in the pipeline.”

That’s just all in reference to where and when NASCAR races. As for the what, don’t forget the brand-new Next Gen car took to the track competitively for the first time this year, too. It replaced the model that had been running since 2013.

The 2023 schedule has not been revealed and the Next Gen car is built to stick around for a while, but promises to keep down this path of progress that has been made.

“I’ve been in NASCAR a long time,” O’Donnell said, “and I’ve never seen this much momentum and really positive story lines around the sport — both from the competition side and really what we’ve got going on for the fans and the activities happening at the track.

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