NEWTON — One could hear the enthusiasm in Kenzie Ruston’s voice.
For a brief moment, her tone flucuated, emitting excitment. The second-year NASCAR K&N Pro Series driver spoke of being named to the NASCAR Next program for the second straight season and her experiences since then.
“We got to do so many cool things,” she said, emphasizing every few words. “They take us to Chicago and we get to hang out with all the Chase drivers when they make the Chase [for the Sprint Cup] and we get to go to Miami and we get to do these go-carting events. We just get to do so many things that you usually don’t get to do if you’re not in the NASCAR Next program.”
Ruston returns to Iowa Speedway this weekend with the rest of the K&N Pro Series drivers for Saturday night’s Casey’s General Stores 150. It’s a return visit for the El Reno, Okla., native to the announcement site of her first NASCAR Next class in 2013.
The NASCAR Next program is an inititive that highlights drivers those within NASCAR believe will be the future of the sport.
“This year, I was really excited again, but the first year was — I was just jumping up and down. I was so excited,” Ruston said, who was named to this year’s Next class on April 25. “When I moved up to the K&N Series, it was one of those things that I really wanted to be a part of that program, so it was really cool to be named and [be] the first female to ever be named to the program.”
Rustin earned a few other historically significant achievements throughout her first K&N Pro Series season. Her third-place finish at Greenville Pickens Speedway in South Carolina last April was the highest ever by a female driver. At season’s end, she placed sixth in the K&N Pro Series Points Standings, also the best ever by a female.
While the 22-year-old takes pride in her accomplishments marked with the “female” prefix, she views them as more of a green flag than a checkered flag.
“It’s really cool to be the first female to do all these things [but] ... Are those my favorite moments in racing? No,” she said. “When I’m out on the race track, I don’t want the guys to race me any different because I’m a girl. I don’t feel like they should. I feel like I get in the car and I work just as hard as them week in and week out to achieve my goals in racing.”
Ruston threw out a couple of names when discussing the route she’d like to see her career take. One, Danica Patrick, is one she knows she’ll be inevitbally compared to, and the other is someone she’s gunning for.
“I’m not out there to be the first woman to do stuff. I’m just out there to be the best I can be and win championships and hopefully be the next Jimmie Johnson. I’m not out there to be better than Danica. I’m not out there to be better than anybody else. I just want to be the best I can be and if that’s better than Danica [or] that’s not quite Jimmie Johnson, it’s whatever,” she said.
“I just want to go out and be competitive every week and be in the top five and win races and win poles and wins championships and that’s what I’m out there for.”