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 firstname.lastname@example.org