DES MOINES, Iowa - Kenzie Ruston stood out on the podium when the NASCAR Next field was revealed last weekend at Iowa Speedway.
The 21-year-old Ruston has established herself as one of the brighter prospects in the sport. She is currently eighth in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East series standings, and last week NASCAR selected her as one of 13 young drivers to be highlighted through its Next promotional program.
Ruston's goal her rookie season with Turner Scott Motorsports was to push for top-5 finishes by the end of the year. But she's already had three so far, each time eclipsing the previous record K&N finish for a woman (sixth place by Danica Patrick in 2010).
"I definitely didn't expect this this early. But it's definitely a plus. Coming into this year, I just really wanted to run for Rookie of the Year. Hopefully I can get that Rookie of the Year and maybe something more," Ruston said.
Ruston's quick rise hasn't surprised those who've watched her outperform expectations at every level.
Ruston, a native of El Reno, Okla., grew up as a self-described "tomboy" in a family full of dirt bike racers. Kenzie's father, Darren, wouldn't let her get on dirt bikes, instead signing her up to race Bandelero cars at Texas Motor Speedway.
It only took one race for Ruston to realize she wanted much more out of the sport than some weekend fun. Even though she blew the lead when she spun out on the final lap, the 13-year-old Ruston - who had already tried every other sport, including cheerleading - was hooked.
"I was such a competitive person that everything I wanted to do, I wanted to win," Ruston said. "My first race, I knew that it was something that I really wanted to accomplish."
By the time she was 16, Ruston had earned a spot in the Legends car series.
"I don't want it to be thought, 'She's good for a female racer.' I just want to be good as a race car driver. I don't want people saying, 'Man, she was the best female driver ever.' I don't want people to think that. I just want people to know that I'm not the driver I can be yet," Ruston said.