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Kwasniewski Confident He and Turner Scott Team Are Turning Corner

By Kelly Crandall (CONCORD, N.C.) – Eleven races into the Nationwide Series season, @dylankracing (Dylan Kwasniewski) is working to change his driving style.

Kwasniewski finished 13th in the History 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon with damage to the right side of his No. 31 Rockstar Energy Chevrolet. Just weeks ago that would have been enough to ruin the Rookie of the Year candidate’s day, but the 19-year-old has learned a lesson and now finds himself taking a different approach.

“Most definitely (playing the patience game). We put a game plan together, I know I was kind of driving over my head a little bit, taking unnecessary risks,” Kwasniewski admitted to Popular Speed in Charlotte. “My team and I met and I had to back it down a little bit, try to be a little less aggressive and we just got to finish the laps.

“That’s what we did today and we had a pretty decent finish. We’ve just got to put all the pieces together and I know we can have some top-five runs and hopefully compete for the win, too.”

Saturday was the second consecutive top-13 finish for the Tuner Scott Motorsports team after crashes at both Richmond and Talladega and a tough night in Darlington. Kwasniewski has just one top-10 this year, in the season opening Daytona event, but has found himself a lot closer, and confident, in earning more of those the last two weeks.

A week ago in Iowa he started fifth and backed it up in Charlotte by qualifying fourth. In fact, Kwasniewski has qualified outside the top-17 just once this season. The results have been much more sporadic, as the driver got off to a rough start with damaged cars.

While Kwasniewski tapped the wall less than 20 laps in on Saturday, he confidently forged on. Running top-10 at the time of the incident, he fell outside contention. Trouble continued on the team’s second pit stop of the day when they completed the stop but Kwasniewski had to back up so the crew could tighten a loose lug nut.

“I think we’re definitely turned around, we’re on the right page. Definitely had a top-five car for sure, we just got a lap down early in the race on a bad pit stop. That was my fault though, I tried going before the lug nut was on and I had to back up and put myself in bad spot,” he said.

“Went a lap down but (passed a lot of cars trying to get lap back) so we had a really fast car. We’ve definitely turned around and think we could have had top-10 finishes each week. I’m excited about it.”

His strong day was a continuation of what he started in Iowa. Last weekend he drove the No. 42 of teammate @KyleLarsonRacin – the Charlotte victor – in a move Turner Scott made to have Kwasniewski drive the machine in the five non-companion Nationwide / Sprint Cup races. He finished 11th working with crew chief Scott Zippadelli while keeping the car spotless.

“I watched the race ad I thought Dylan did a really good job. Thought he was going to have a least a top seven finish and had the right front go down I think, but still got back to 11th, so good comeback for them,” Larson said on his teammate. “Sucked watching your own car on the track but Dylan did a good job, he’s been learning each and every week and you can see the improvement. I was behind him at one point in the race (Saturday) and he was a little bit better than I

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was and couldn’t get by him and was getting frustrated.”

Kwasniewski is also a Chip Ganassi Racing development driver, the team Larson races for on Sunday’s. The two have become fast friends off the track and according to Larson, makes it not only easier working together, but sees the benefit in helping his younger and more inexperienced teammate.

Something Kwasniewski is looking forward to seeing the results of in the future.

“Definitely a learning experience,” he said about driving Larson’s car.

“Whenever you work with a new crew chief it’s going to be a whole different ballgame. It was fun working with him, he handles stuff in a different way but it was a blast and I hope we can move on forward from here.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall

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Johanna Long Working Towards NASCAR Return

By Matt Weaver (PENSACOLA, Fla.) — It’s like starting all over again for Johanna Long.

The popular Long is not entered in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race in Charlotte. It’s not because she lost the determination, will or talent that once made her an intriguing prospect. Like so many before her, she simply lost her ride.

Long has an enviable pedigree.

At just 21 years old, Long has already won the prestigious Snowball Derby, made a handful of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts and has two years of sporadic Nationwide starts. She is in the sweet spot of a prospects career — at the crossroads of youth and experience but has seemingly been passed over by the elite team owners.

As a result, Long was back home in Pensacola, racing at her home track, Five Flags Speedway in the second-year Southern Super Series Late Model tour. Long wants desperately to return and says that she is nearing closer to securing a deal that will see her return to the upper echelon of stock car racing later this summer.

“Right now it’s all about trying to find sponsorship that can take me back to the next level,” Long told Popular Speed on Friday. “When my team (ML Motorsports) shut down last year, I lost my ride — which was understandable — but it was a reminder to keep pressing forward to get back to Nationwide or somewhere in NASCAR.

“That’s what it’s all about and love racing, I miss it and it kills me to not be there.”

Long says she has been humbled by the number of “big name teams” that have reached out to her but conceded that she has to work diligently at supplying the funding to join them.

“We are working really hard,” Long said. “We have some leads right now and are presenting them to different teams and them to the sponsors. So I think that by the end of the year, you should see me back out there but if you don’t, it’s not because I’ve given up. You’ve got to keep on digging.”

Despite the frustrations of having to bring money, Long says she kept her calm during the whole process, believing it to be a part of the ebbs and flows of being a professional race car driver. It’s also served as a reminder for Long to improve her entire game — both in the seat and in the boardroom.

“It’s all part of being a NASCAR driver and you can’t allow it get you down,” Long said. “In racing there are always ups and down and there are always more downs. But I believe that once you get over the hill, it’s easier to stay there.

“We just have to keep on working hard. I know that I can do it and all I need is the right opportunity to get me there. All I need is to find that team that believes I can stay there next time.”

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattWeaverSBN

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XFINITY

Going the Distance … With Cale Conley

Each week, Popular Speed will ask a different NASCAR personality a handful of questions about their career, lifestyle or an off-beat personality trait. Next up: Richard Childress Racing Nationwide Series driver, Cale Conley, who will make this third start of the season on Sunday at Iowa.

Popular Speed: Do you still feel the novelty and aura of getting to the race track each week or has it become a job?

Cale Conley: At first, I’m still amazed at these tracks and I’m in total fan mode, wanting to soak it all in. I don’t get into job mode until I put on the firesuit. It’s a good mix of both and to see my name on a Nationwide Series car and to race it on all these tracks I grew up watching on TV is pretty awesome.

PS: What are some of your earliest memories that led you towards this path?

CC: My dad raced in ASA (American Speed Association) when I was little and just gained a passion for it — loved the sights and sounds. I’ve always had the matchbox cars of all my favorite drivers so you could say that I’ve had a passion from day one. I’ve just stuck with it and I’m grateful for all the opportunities that a guy like me has been given.

PS: Who was your childhood hero?

CC: Mark Martin for sure. Dad took me to the Coca-Cola 600 one year and Mark was driving the Valvoline car with the check mark and the orange wheels. I’ve stuck with Mark Martin from that point up until he retired. But beyond that, Mark is my favorite driver but I would have to say that Ayrton Senna is my life hero. I’ve spent the past few years learning about his personality and drive and I respect that a great deal.

PS: Would you have rather started your career 20 years ago or 20 years from now?

CC: That’s hard to say because I don’t want to devalue what is going on the sport right now but if I had to answer I would say that it would have been cool to race 20 years ago against the guys that were good back then. The racing was pretty hard-nosed too.

And I really think that 20 years from now, people are going to look back at the racing today and say how great it is. Anytime you can make the cars harder to drive, I think the racing really benefits the sport. When you have a six-time champion, Jimmie Johnson, lose control of the car at Talladega of all places, I think that’s a testament to how hard these cars are to drive and that’s great.

PS: Do you have a bucket list track that you haven’t been able to race on yet?

CC: Assuming that I make it to Cup and I get to go to all the tracks on that schedule, I would have to say Indianapolis for the Indy 500. I think what Kurt is doing right now, doing the double, is something that every NASCAR driver should try to accomplish at least once in their career. To answer that question, I like to think of places with a historical perspective.

PS: Which driver, from another discipline, would you love to race against in the NASCAR Nationwide Series?

CC: Lewis Hamilton. You look at what Kimi (Raikkonen) was able to do when he raced at Charlotte, he was competitive so any of those guys from Europe, I would love to race against this weekend at Iowa for example in the Nationwide Series.

PS: What is your favorite paint scheme in the history of the sport?

CC: Definitely the Mark Martin check car — that Ford Taurus. That’s the car that got me into this deal.

PS:  What is one make-or-break moment that has defined your career?

I’d say my Nationwide Series debut at Bristol, making it into the final round and finishing 11th and on the lead lap. Before the Nationwide Series, there were a couple of good races that stand out that got my name out there.

The one that really stands out is this one USAC midget race at Anderson, Ind. We qualified deep in the field but worked myself up to second with 10 laps to go behind Darren Hagen and then the motor let go. We finished third with a dying motor but finishing passing Bobby East and Shane Hmiel on my way to the front was quite the accomplishment.

Read Previous Going the Distance Q&As here.

Photograph courtesy of Harold Hinson Photography and Richard Childress Racing.

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XFINITY

Rating the Rookies: Nationwide Series Stacked with Talent

By Joseph Wolkin – After a wild start to the NASCAR season, things are starting to settle down. In the Nationwide Series, however, business is picking up with some new faces making noise.

The 2014 season is the year of the rookie driver. In the Sprint Cup Series, there are seven full-time drivers competing for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title. The Nationwide Series has 10 drivers (eight full-time) competing for the same honor, while the Camping World Truck Series has four of them. This abundance of new, young drivers has created some buzz even though some of these drivers aren’t running for powerhouse organizations, they are competing for solid finishes.

After the first nine races of the Nationwide Series season, there are four rookies inside the top-10 in points. Not only are they high in points, but those four drivers have combined for two wins, fives top-fives and 16 top-10s. Although there are just two rookies to have recorded top-five finishes (Chase Elliott and Chris Buescher), there are multiple drivers which are using the first half of the season to get adjusted to the vigorous NASCAR schedule.

Here are Popular Speed’s grades on the Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidates in the NASCAR Nationwide Series:

Chase Elliott, A: Elliott is leading the points after nine races. However, even with two wins – the 18-year-old JR Motorsports driver is still not satisfied with his results. He has finished outside of the top-10 only twice this year, both of which were at restrictor plate tracks.

Moving forward, Elliott looks poised to continue being extremely consistent. Not only is he contending for race wins on a weekly basis, but he is consuming knowledge from his elder teammates such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Regan Smith and Kevin Harvick.

Ty Dillon, B+: Replacing the reigning champion in a division is difficult enough. Imagine what that is like when that champion is your brother. Dillon is fourth in points, but has yet to finish inside of the top-five. He is in equipment that can run for wins, yet there is something missing in the entire Richard Childress Racing camp this year.

The 22-year-old starts out races very well, but seems to struggle towards the conclusion of events. Though he has had some good runs this year such as Bristol and Fontana, Dillon has struggled over the last three races, and is in need of getting his momentum back if he is to contend for top-five finishes on a weekly basis.

Chris Buescher, B: The younger cousin of 2012 Camping World Truck Series champion James Buescher missed the season-opener at Daytona. Yet even being a race behind, Buescher is still inside the top-10 in points. As a former ARCA Series champion, Buescher knows he has what it takes to win races, something he showed at Talladega – nearly running down Elliott Sadler as the checkered flag was waving.

Buescher had a four race skid where he had finishes of 14th or worse, but is coming off of back-to-back top-10 finishes. The key for him will be to get the most of his equipment. His bad days are outside of the top-15. Meanwhile, his competitors are approximately 10th, making him need to improve his results if he wants to be a title contender.

Ryan Reed, C+: Reed has not performed to expectations with RFR this year. He has yet to finish inside of the top-10 through the first nine races, and has been involved in multiple wrecks. He simply needs to stay out of trouble. When he isn’t involved in a wreck, Reed is racing around 15th place. He has also struggled at tracks which his team usually excels at such as Texas, Las Vegas and Richmond.

ESPN reported multiple times that Jack Roush has already to take away his ride for multiple races just like he did with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2010, but whether or not he would do so is questionable now that Reed is settling in with his team. Considering he had limited success last year in six Nationwide Series starts, his expectations are not as high as Buescher’s. However, he must stay out of trouble, and then the results will start to come.

Dylan Kwasniewski, C+: Like Reed, Kwasniewski has struggled to finish races. When he doesn’t get into trouble, the two-time K&N Pro Series champion is racing around the top-10. The past three races have been his worst, and he must turn his luck around if he wants to prove he isn’t rushing up to NASCAR’s second-tier division.

Kwasniewski has gone to his teammate, Kyle Larson, for advice throughout the year, however, he is still struggling. With one top-10 throughout the year, the hope is to show he can run similar to what Larson did last year if he wants to take advantage of his developmental deal with Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.

Dakoda Armstrong, D+: Armstrong has not done too well this year. Even though Richard Petty Motorsports did struggle somewhat in 2013 with Michael Annett, they still have some improving to do. In 2014, Armstrong’s best finish is 17th at Richmond.

Armstrong has yet to finish on the lead lap during any non-restrictor plate event this season. However, RPM does have an alliance with Richard Petty Motorsports, and once he develop a stronger relationship with his crew chief, Philippe Lopez, this team should run inside the top-10.

Ryan Sieg, C-: Considering that Sieg and his family-owned team are running their first full-time Nationwide Series season without much funding, it’s going as well as expected. They were capable of running inside the top-20 in the Truck Series since 2010, and have been able to nearly duplicate that this year. Sieg recorded a top-10 finish to start out the year at Daytona, and has four top-20 finishes since then. The goal for this little team is to just finish races. If they can do that, the funding will come now that they are on a larger stage.

Joseph Wolkin is a Popular Speed Development Journalist. 

EMAIL JOSEPH AT joseph.wolkin@popularspeed.com

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Chris Buescher Survives ‘Insane’ Talladega Race for Runner-up Effort

By Kelly Crandall (TALLADEGA, Ala.) – It’s taken a little bit longer than expected but @Chris_Buescher and his Roush Fenway team feel they’ve finally found their footing.

In his first Nationwide Series restrictor plate race Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway, Buescher came home second to @Elliott_Sadler after a final three-lap dash to the finish. Buescher had the drafting help in @ReganSmith, who not only won last year’s Talladega race but the season opening event in Daytona. The two worked all through the last three laps, running side-by-side with Sadler and @DavidRagan. They lost momentum however, coming off turn four and missed a chance at a potential photo finish, but it was enough for Buescher to grab his season and career best finish.

“It was insane to say the least. Our Roush Performance Parts Mustang was really good all weekend. I think we saw we were with our teammates at the top of the charts during practice, even with the crazy qualifying,” Buescher said afterwards. “Really after the last couple of weeks, Richmond worked out really well for us, but leading up to that we had some bad luck and really just wanted to come here and finish this thing without tearing up a race car, wanted to get a solid run and get us back moving in the right direction. I think getting a second place finish just makes it that much better. It was a really good race.”

Buescher experienced the restrictor plate shuffle a few times, fighting from the front to the back and vice versa. Through it all was a good friend in Cup veteran David Ragan, working with the rookie the most over the course of 117 laps, both avoiding the big accidents that seemed to continue to happen in front of them. It ended up helping Buescher in the end when he found himself in contention for the win, trying to get his nose ahead of the man Ragan was pushing.

“The way we lined up there at the end Regan Smith said that he would push me as hard as he could and, sure enough, I’ve never been to one of these restrictor plate races where you’ve been able to make contact like that and it was absolutely crazy and very out of control, but a whole lot of fun,” he said. “I’m really proud of the guys. We got the finish that we deserved this week. We worked way too hard to put a fast car on the race track to have something take us out of that and we didn’t let that happen.”

Repeatedly acknowledging that his No. 60 Roush Performance Parts team is fighting a different kind of battle in 2014, they play a different game than most teams each weekend. Due in large part because they failed to make the season’s first race in Daytona and have been snake bitten in luck since then. Top-10 cars they brought to the track failed to finish there starting after earning a ninth place in Las Vegas.

In Darlington two weeks ago, Buescher and company again flexed their muscle with a contending car, even qualifying a season best sixth. But contact from fellow rookie @dylankracing (Dylan Kwasniewski) ended their night with damage, yet shifted the team’s attention.

“I think this will be really big for us. Unfortunately, I guess you could say we have an off-weekend to slow it down, but we’ve been running in a position to be able to do this, we just haven’t been able to finish all of our races like this,” Buescher said on the team’s confidence after two straight top-10 finishes. “It’s cool to get that momentum and keep it rolling.”

Richmond, where he came home seventh, snapped a stretch of four consecutive weeks finishing outside the top-16. Talladega was a bigger step forward as he led his first lap of the season. As the Nationwide Series heads to Iowa Speedway in two weeks, Buescher now sits ninth in points.

“When things happen that aren’t your fault it’s hard on everybody and you sit and think about what could have been. With the beginning of the season and the way it played out, we’re not really in a point chase, so we sat down after Darlington and said, ‘You know what, it’s time to go try and win some races,’” Buescher revealed.

“And I think that mindset is gonna help us going forward.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall

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Elliott Sadler Receives Belated Birthday Gift; Wins Aaron’s 312

By Chris Knight (NASCAR Wire Service) TALLADEGA, Ala. – Happy belated Birthday, Elliott Sadler!

Sadler, who celebrated his 39th birthday this past Wednesday (April 30) withstood several changes on a restart with three-laps to go in Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 to score his 10th career NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) victory at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

With some help from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular David Ragan, the two veterans were able to overpower Sunoco rookie Chris Buescher and JRM Motorsports pilot Regan Smith on the outside lane to send the Emporia, Virginia native back to victory lane for the first time since 2012.

“We stayed on the bottom, stuck to our guns, David Ragan did a good job of pushing us and we were able to hold those guys off at the end,” said a jubilant Sadler. “It means a lot for me to get this JGR team to victory lane. They’ve worked their butts off last year and we weren’t able to reward them. We have a lot of momentum on our side, we let one get away from us at Darlington, so to come back here and get one for all of our sponsors this is really good.”

Sadler in his sixth Talladega Nationwide Series start was a factor from the drop of the green flag, but had to dodge several on-track incidents and climb from the bottom half of the top-10 after his final trip to pit lane, following a caution on Lap 83 for a solo spin by Eric McClure.

Roush Fenway Racing’s rookie Ryan Reed stole the lead from pole sitter Sam Hornish Jr. on Lap one and held the point until the first caution flag waived on Lap 29 for debris. Pit strategy shuffled the leaders with Ty Dillon inheriting the lead after a two-tire stop.

Dillon would lead the field back to green, before Sadler and Sunday’s pole sitter Brian Scott duked it out three laps later for possession of the lead. Meanwhile, a few positions behind them, Ryan Blaney in the No. 22 for Team Penske made contact with the No. 99 of James Buescher triggering a five car incident on Lap 44.

The yellow provided another opportunity for the field to come to pit road for tires, fuel and adjustment, with Blaney leading the parade back to green flag conditions. Meanwhile, Sadler and Scott came roaring back to the front line, shuffling for the lead over the next 10 laps before Scott was tapped by the No. 6 of Trevor Bayne on Lap 63 igniting a 10-car incident.

Sadler would maintain the lead on the restart until McClure’s issue, which gave the lead to Daytona winner Regan Smith. He would lead the field over the next 20 laps before David Starr driving for TriStar Motorsports would use a push following Lap 104 restart to assert himself into first, but not before rookie sensation Chase Elliott took his turn at the front on the same lap that Chad Boat wrecked on the backstretch on Lap 108.

With a majority of the field staying out, Elliott, Starr and Sadler would become the three drivers out front and found themselves battling for the win inside the final five laps.

Following the restart, the momentum of the lead pack would be stalled on Lap 113 when Ryan Blaney lost control of his No. 22 Ford and collected five others. Quickly, NASCAR would display the red flag to ensure a scheduled distance conclusion. After a nine minute and five second pause, the field returned to caution.

With the green flag in the air for the final time, Sadler with pressure from all angles would fend off his challengers to deliver Joe Gibbs Racing its third win of 2014.

Buescher was a career-best second ahead of Regan Smith, Ragan and Hornish Jr to make up the top-five.

“Congratulations to Elliott Sadler, but this Roush Performance Mustang was awesome all weekend,” said Buescher, after his Nationwide restrictor plate debut. “We knew we had a good piece, we just had to pull through with it. Regan Smith pushed me at the end. That’s about all you can ask for because I’m still very new to this speedway racing, so to be able to pull off a second is really cool to me. We got the finish we deserved today.”

Joe Nemechek, J.J. Yeley, Landon Cassill, Starr and Bayne comprised the remainder of the top-10.

After nine races, Elliott continues to lead the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings ahead of Sadler (-1), Smith (-3), Bayne (-31) and Dillon (-31).

Next up for the NASCAR Nationwide Series is a trip to Iowa Speedway for the running of the Get To Know Newton 250 presented by Sherwin-Williams on Sunday, May 18.

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XFINITY

Sam Hornish Jr. Putting the Penske Past Behind Him

By Kelly Crandall (TALLADEGA, Ala.) – It’s been nearly six months since @SamHornish Jr. has sat in a Nationwide Series car, yet he reappeared on Thursday afternoon without hesitation or hard feelings.

Hornish lost his ride with Team Penske following the 2013 season and returns this weekend now driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, sharing seat time in the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota. Talladega is the first of seven scheduled races for Hornish, whose only competitive laps in 2014 have been when substituting for @DennyHamlin in the Sprint Cup race at California.

Other than that, his time away has consisted of chauffeuring his children around, racing go-karts and getting on a racing simulator. Thankfully, while Talladega presents challenges all its own, it’s not a track where teams will work on much in terms of the car and setup. Meaning Hornish is getting valuable seat and comfort time come Saturday afternoon.

“I have to say that you really would think that it felt like a very long time since Miami being that it’s closing in on six months, but the fact of having a third child, a lot of things happening with having a six and a three-year-old and also switching teams it’s seemed to go by very fast,” Hornish said, “and I really feel blessed and fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to get my foot in the door at JGR, to be in the Monster Energy car, to have a sponsor that makes a product that I use on a daily basis and I feel like it’s just very exciting. But, on the other hand we’re coming to Talladega and there’s a lot of things that are out of a driver’s control when it gets down to it.”

The priority for the weekend he admitted is getting to know his new team better. He did attend a few races earlier this season and had the chance to watch @KyleBusch and crew chief Adam Stevens work. The 54 will be split between Busch and Hornish and Stevens will work with both drivers.

Once again, Hornish finds himself in a position that’s not new for him – having to start all over again. Before winning the first IndyCar race of his career back in 2001, Hornish believed he was at the end of his career. Then in 2011 while running a partial schedule with Penske he got the feeling again before eventually being demoted to the Nationwide Series where things clicked.

He went out and won his first career race at the end of 2011 in Phoenix. Then finished fourth in points in 2012 before having a career year – and NASCAR breakout – last season. It included a win in Las Vegas, four poles, 16 top-fives and 25 top-10 finishes. Throughout the last portion of the season, Hornish went toe-to-toe with @AustinDillon3 for the Nationwide championship.

He came up short in Homestead-Miami, three points from adding a NASCAR championship to his three IndyCar titles. That ended up being the last race he ran for Penske, as the team was forced to let him go.

“If we would have went out as champions things would have probably been a little easier to deal with, but I feel like a lot of that is in the past. I remember all the things that Roger (Penske) did for me and I remember doing my best to live up to the things that he expected from me and I feel like we both could have done things better along the way,” Hornish said on how things ended. “We both did some pretty good things as a group together. If you hold on to any kind of hard feelings or anything like that, I know why they did what they did and I’m not the kind of person that holds grudges so I’m more excited about the opportunity that I have moving forward than I ever will be about thinking of what could have been.

“I’m the kind of person that I guess the glass is half full, I’m an optimist and I’ll put a lot of stuff behind me and just move on because I also remember that I started driving for Roger Penske because I wanted to win the Indianapolis 500 and he hired me because he wanted to win an IndyCar championship and we both did that together.”

The combination of Hornish and Penske became synonymous with success. They won eight IndyCar races, a championship and that infamous Indianapolis 500 in 2006. In NASCAR they went through the battle scars of Sprint Cup and then grabbed two Nationwide wins and the runner-up position in the 2013 championship. But it was in late September, in the midst of that battle, when tough decisions had to be made.

Hornish’s sponsors committed to the Sprint Cup Series with teammate Brad @Keselowski and just months before the year ended, the organization was left looking for funding for the No. 12. It didn’t come and after 10 years together Hornish and Penske parted ways.

“I won my Indy 500 and he got his championship and it makes me feel pretty good that we started off on the right foot and maybe from there we didn’t always go hand in hand, but almost won a championship,” Hornish said. “It’s always easier if you think back if everything would have went perfect, but I had some opportunities going toward the end of last year and when I got the call that I was going to maybe have the opportunity to run the Monster Energy car and I had the opportunity to sit down with Joe (Gibbs) and J.D. (Gibbs), I walked out of that meeting and I’m like, ‘I’ve got to give it 24 hours because right now everything in my brain tells me to go ahead and to sign for whatever they want and go for it.’

Hornish being picked up by JGR in the offseason. Not a full-time he had hoped for, it was the best part-time situation he could have hoped for. While through it all, he hasn’t looked back and hasn’t let it dampen his spirits.

“I felt like they (JGR) were the kind of people and the way they presented themselves and the things that they said in that first meting just made me feel like this is exactly what I needed to do,” he said. “I felt the same way after 24 hours and the same way after 48 hours and the same way after 48 days.

“I just feel like it’s a really good opportunity for me and it’s really been difficult to wait five months to be able to do something with it, but on the same hand patience is a virtue so I will do what I can.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall

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XFINITY

Dylan Kwasniewski Living and Learning in Nationwide Series

By Joseph Wolkin – Not too many people move across the country at a young age. However, after growing up in Las Vegas for the latter part of his teenage years, one youngster decided to take the biggest risk of his life. Now, he is one of eight full-time competitors battling for the Sunoco NASCAR Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year award in 2014.

@dylankracing (Dylan Kwasniewski), 18, graduated from high school last year. Since then, his primary focus has been his racing career. Like his peers, whom also recently graduated high school, the time is now for Kwasniewski to prove he is capable of competing for wins.

Coming into the new year, Kwasniewski signed a deal to run the entire Nationwide Series season with Turner Scott Motorsports. However, since making his debut at Daytona in February, there has been nothing short of growing pains after coming off of back-to-back championships in the NASCAR K& N Pro Series West and East, respectively.

“I would definitely like to do better. I have high expectations in any series I go in, whether it is going to be go-carts or the Nationwide Series. I expect myself to go out there and perform. I haven’t been living up to my standards, and I know I can improve on the track and off the track,” Kwasniewski told POPULAR SPEED. “I saw that we are struggling a little bit with putting the right things in place, so I think we have fixed them and I know what we need to do moving on forward. Like I said – hopefully we can start performing pretty well and we’ll see some good finishes coming out of Tuner Scott Motorsports.”

Even though it is a larger stage than he is used to, Kwasniewski is starting to get adjusted to NASCAR’s second tier division. Through the first seven events of the year, the Connecticut-born driver has just one top-10 finish, earning an eighth place finish at Daytona to begin the season. He also earned the pole for that race, putting even larger expectations on his shoulders.

Several years ago, Kwasniewski’s father, Randy Kwasniewski, committed suicide. Since then he has been building a name in the racing industry largely in part due to the support of his mother. The family moved around frequently when Kwasniewski was a child, but he was always racing. It has helped Kwasniewski become a better, more focused racer with concrete goals, and when he does not perform to those expectations, things start to go wrong inside the car.

“I actually went back home. I went back to what I know. I wanted to try get away from some stuff and made sure I could relax and forget about all of these bad races that we have had. I really needed some time with myself to see how I can improve to try to get in a better mental state,” said Kwasniewski. “I went to hang out and see my friends, and now it is back at it. We are back in the swing of things.

“The season so far has been alright. We have definitely been struggling a little bit. It is a new team and a new series. Obviously, we had to get some things in place and figure out what I need to do better. We have had our good races as well, but I think we started to put good finishes together. We started to figure out what I need to improve on off the track, and hopefully we will start competing up front and getting some wins as well.”

The learning process has been a difficult one. After all, Kwasniewski has gone from primarily racing at short tracks, to now racing at tracks that are more than double the size than he is accustomed to. Fortunately, he has had plenty of help from his veteran crew chief, Pat Tryson.

Tryson has won eight races in NASCAR’s elite division and has also worked with veteran drivers. However, he has also worked with some young pilots such as Elliott Sadler (2001 and 2002) and Nelson Piquet Jr. (2013). Now, his job is to help Kwasniewski adjust to tracks which he has never seen before.

“He has been with some real amazing drivers, some cultured drivers that have been in the sport for a long time. So when you have a new guy like me that really doesn’t know what is going on in a whole new ball game and atmosphere from what you are used to, he kind of encourages me and gives me accolades to show that I am quicker than usual. He knows what’s up,” Kwasniewski said about his third crew chief since he started racing full-time in 2012. “He has been to these tracks with other drivers, so he can coach me a little bit through it. He does whatever he can to help me perform a little better.”

Now that Kwasniewski is on one of the sport’s largest stages, many have begun to notice his rather rare personality. It is not too often you see a NASCAR driver wearing snapback hat. But, his eccentric personality is part of the new generation, which has hit the sport over the last two years or so.

Kwasniewski is different from most racers. Not only is his background different, but his perspective on the sport is different as well. He is bringing a new, exciting vibe to the sport – something that is necessary to bring more attention to NASCAR in the form of a new ‘star.’

“I recognize that I have a different image. I recognize that I have a different persona. I like different things than a normal NASCAR would. I dress differently. I do lots of things different. But I definitely use that to my advantage. One thing I like is that it brings a different outlook to the sport,” he said.

Several weeks ago, Kwasniewski signed a deal with Chip Ganassi Racing. The deal, similar to what @KyleLarsonRacin signed with the organization, will likely lead the Turner Scott Motorsports driver to the Sprint Cup Series sooner rather than later. Even though Larson still races in the Nationwide Series, he received and still does receive, criticism for arguably rushing up to the Sprint Cup Series after racing only one full year in the sport’s top development division.

Although he understands that he has the talent to be successful, Kwasniewski said he wants to mature. He admits to over driving the car, which was visible at his home track in Las Vegas when he crashed in qualifying, and once again during the race. Mistakes have since been limited, but there is always room for improvement.

“I need to prove more of the mentality that I had the last two years. I was in the right state of mind the last two years where I had the right mentality to win two championships. Even though it was in a different series, a less competitive series with a lesser spotlight, but I was very patient. I went through a lot of stuff. A lot of adversity and I need to take that mentality into this year,” Kwasniewski said.

“I need to be more patient, more forgiving, understand a little bit more about it and stop trying to go out there and trying to get something out of the car that I can’t. I need to be content with where I finish and be happy with it going from a race finish to the next race. I need to improve myself. I need to show them that I can compete with the best of the best with these Sprint Cup Series drivers in the Nationwide Series.”

Amidst the struggles, there have been some bright sides to Kwasniewski’s first go-round in the Nationwide Series. He has been making friends in his apartment complex with some of his peers and more importantly, developing business relationships.

Kwasniewski’s sponsor, Rockstar Energy, has played a large part in Kwasniewski’s rise, having signed on with him approximately five years ago. Since that time, he’s become one of their key representatives. Last year, Kwasniewski had a web show on AOL which helped showcase what his journey was like – competing for a championship while attempting to graduate school at the same time. The show was a hit, but also showed he had some maturing to do.

As the season rolls on, Kwasniewski, a NASCAR Next driver, might just see himself racing inside of the top-10 on a weekly basis. It is going to be difficult to do so, especially when he has not been to several tracks on the circuit, but he enjoys the challenge. The challenge is what makes his success even sweeter.

“I have to perform to my expectations and other people’s expectations. I realize I can’t have a setback, and I need to be calmer on the racetrack,” he said. “Now that I see that, I think I will be a little bit better.”

Joseph Wolkin is a Popular Speed Development Journalist.

EMAIL JOSEPH AT joseph.wolkin@popularspeed.com

Categories
Uncategorized XFINITY

Harvick Dominates in Seventh Nationwide Series Win at Richmond

By Reid Spencer (NASCAR Wire Service) RICHMOND, Va. –  As soon as Kevin Harvick took the lead in Friday night’s ToyotaCare 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Richmond International Raceway, it was over.

Harvick passed polesitter Brian Scott for the top spot on Lap 48 of 250 and led all but one lap thereafter in cruising to a dominant victory over JR Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, who fell one position short in his bid to win three straight races.

In an event that was delayed more than three hours by rain, Harvick led 202 laps in posting his series-best seventh win at Richmond, his first of the season and the 41st of his career.

Kyle Busch ran third, followed by Kyle Larson and Scott. Elliott extended his series lead to 19 points of over Regan Smith, who finished eighth.

 

The victory was the fourth in eight NNS races for JR Motorsports and the first 1-2 finish for the organization. Harvick credited his teammate for pushing him.

“Honestly, Chase is a good kid, and he knows how to drive a race car,” Harvick said. “He pushes us to be better by trying different things (from what we’ve been doing) through the years. The groove getting into in Turn 1—I had to change my groove tonight and change my car because it was different.

“He’s as good as they get and a lot of fun to be around.”

Elliott, however, chided himself for not giving Harvick more of a battle after a restart on Lap 204.

“We were just a little tight right in the middle of the corner,” Elliott said. “I think he just outdrove me a little bit. Honestly, I felt like some of it was me. I just let him get a little too far out in front of me there on the first few laps.

“I’ve just got to get up on the wheel a little harder the next time we’re in that situation.”

During a green-flag run that lasted 104 laps after a competition caution called on Lap 41, Harvick built a lead of more than eight seconds, and advantage that was reduced to slightly more than four seconds after a long cycle of green-flag pit stops.

A caution on Lap 151 for debris in Turn 4, however, reset the field and gave all lead-lap cars (15 at the time) to come to pit road for tires and fuel. First out of the pit after the stops, Harvick led the field to green on Lap 162 with Elliott second and Scott third.

Harvick pulled away after the restart, with Elliott in close pursuit, and those two drivers ran less than a half-second apart until contact from Ryan Reed’s Ford sent Dylan Kwasniewski’s Chevrolet into the Turn 4 wall to bring out the fourth caution of the night.

Harvick and Elliott were 1-2 off pit road for a restart on Lap 197, and though another quick caution on the restart lap—when Regan Smith tangled with Elliott Sadler in Turn 2—slowed the field for the fifth time, Harvick was just as dominant after a restart on Lap 204.

Gradually, Harvick pulled away from his teammate during the final 47-lap green-flag run and arrived at the finish line 2.069 seconds ahead of Elliott.

Categories
XFINITY

Brian Scott: ‘I’ve Got a Chip on My Shoulder’ for Richmond

By Kelly Crandall – The car and the track are the same, but @bscottracing (Brian Scott) wants a much different result.

Scott dominated at Richmond International Raceway last fall, leading the first 239 of the scheduled 250 laps after starting from the pole. Sitting in firm control with sights set on going wire-to-wire before a late caution came out and Brad @Keselowski stole the show on the ensuing restart, which sent him to victory lane and Scott settling for second.

“Makes me mad and frustrated we didn’t win last fall, I feel like we dominated the race and some things happened at the end,” Scott said on Friday as the series returns to the Virginia short track.

“A caution came out that I don’t feel like should have been a caution and then there was the last restart I felt like Brad (Keselowski) jumped and it wasn’t called. Overall I’m just frustrated and mad that we didn’t get to victory lane last fall here. I’ve got a chip on my shoulder and I want to get out there this spring and I want to show that we can dominate a race just like we did last fall here and we can get it done in the closing laps as long as we don’t have any misfortune and bring home the checkered flag this time.”

The Richard Childress Racing driver in that one race shattered his Nationwide Series statistics. He earned his second career pole while to that point Scott had led just 38 laps in his career and had only finished second once before – at Indianapolis earlier that season. But Richmond was near to a coming out party.

His protests of the Keselowski restarts fell on deaf ears. His interruption of the rulebook gave him no solace. Left wondering what he could have done better while he exuded bitterness of the situation the more he talked about it.

“Up until last year I never liked Richmond and I think statistically it had been my worst racetrack. With a team last year at Richard Childress Racing they have a different short rack package that’s really suited me,” Scott said on the performance. “Even the first Richmond race we ran sixth or seven the whole race until our teammate got in a wreck in front of us and we took some damage and we ended up finishing worse. I have a lot of confidence here now, I have a lot of confidence on the short track programs.”

Last year Scott called it a bittersweet love affair with the track, as it wasn’t the first time that Richmond left him snake bitten. In the 2013 spring race he was battling hard with Nelson Piquet with the two roughing up their fenders. Following the finish they went after each other again, which spilled over to pit road where Scott was shoved and kicked below the belt by Piquet. Later that night it carried over outside the track with crewmembers from each team going at it with two from RCR being arrested and later released from the organization.

Now back in Richmond for the first time this season, Scott hasn’t forgotten any of it. Certainly not the feeling of being so close and what the car, which he’ll again race this weekend, was capable of.

Scott was eighth fastest in opening practice on Thursday afternoon. Friday he’ll make his 10th career Nationwide start at Richmond.

“They (his No. 2 Shore Lodge team) made my life a lot easier last fall because we unloaded off the truck really well and this is a place it can be challenging to practice, you can dial yourself out. You practice a lot of the time in the heat of the day where you race at night,” he said. “We get on the track when it’s green and then when we go racing it’s rubbered up, so it’s a place where you really test your whit almost as much as your ability. I feel the smart drivers are the ones that are able to capitalize and win here.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall