Growing pains: Kwasniewski plodding through first Nationwide season
APR 16, 2014 4:11p ET
Dylan Kwasniewski's first NASCAR Nationwide Series race couldn't have gone much better, all things considered.
Just 18 years old and making his series debut at Daytona International Speedway, Kwasniewski won the pole and finished eighth in February's season opener.
After running so well out of the gate in NASCAR's No. 2 division, all seemed well in the rookie driver's world.
Then reality came calling.
Six races and almost two months since his superb outing at The World Center of Racing, Kwasniewski has failed to record another top-10 finish. In fact, the Turner Scott Motorsports driver has been unable to lead a single lap all season.
As the 2013 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and 2012 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion, Kwasniewski isn't used to struggling. But neither is he used to the level of competition he's facing in the Nationwide Series this year.
"I think this year has been way different than any other racing I've been used to," Kwasniewski said. "Obviously, the competition level has increased tenfold, even more. So you go out there and try to go race on these tracks that you've seen on TV, you've watched video of, you know what it looks like when you step on to it for the first time and you're trying to get up to speed as quick as Kyle Busch and Joey Logano and all these other Cup drivers that are racing on there. It's extremely tough.
"It's hard to log laps and get used to not only the characteristics of the track but how the car handles on it -- especially the radial rubber compared to last year. So trying to adapt to these tracks as quick as possible so you can get up to speed and start to compete, and then you fine tune on your car after that. I think that is the toughest part about my jump this year."
While Kwasniewski sits a solid eighth in the standings entering the Nationwide Series' second off weekend of 2014, the Las Vegas native is less than thrilled about his season to date.
"If you would have asked me where I thought my best finish would have been, I would have not by any means thought it was going to be at Daytona, of all places," Kwasniewski said. "So to come off and get a strong finish there and have that pole in that first race possible, it definitely gives you a confidence booster. Then you go to these next racetracks where you really have to get down in it and put in the effort to driving these cars, you want to do just as well.
"I've seen the mistakes I've made. I've definitely made some rookie mistakes; that's for sure. I think it's just because of my inexperience."
One of Kwasniewski's roughest races came last weekend at Darlington Raceway, a rugged 1.366-mile track that is notoriously difficult for newcomers. Kwasniewski qualified 17th and finished a lap down in 23rd -- his second-worst outcome of the young season.
"Darlington was a tough day at the office for me," he said. "We struggled in practice. First practice, we struggled really bad. Second practice, we had engine issues, so I got 50 laps of practice shortened at a track I've never been to. I've never set eyes on it. So when you're a rookie going into these races trying to compete against these guys who have been here for countless many times and many years in the past, you really need every single lap to get up to speed. ...
"So when you are out there and you're struggling all weekend long and you do have these problems, it really takes a toll and it's definitely frustrating to say the least."
While Kwasniewski has endured an up-and-down season so typical of rookie drivers, fellow rookie Chase Elliott has defied all expectations by winning twice and seizing the series points lead. Chase, of course, is driving for a different organization -- JR Motorsports -- but Kwasniewski admits it's hard not to measure his success against that of 1988 Sprint Cup champion Bill Elliott's 18-year-old son.
"When I see Chase Elliott go out there and get two wins in a row, that absolutely, I love that and I love seeing that, but it irks me because I want to go out there and beat these guys because I know I can compete with them," Kwasniewski said. "When I do have these poor finishes at Darlington and at Texas, it just absolutely grinds my gears because I want to go out there and prove to the NASCAR world that I can race with these guys, too.
"So the biggest thing is I have to focus on our program at Turner Scott Motorsports. I have to focus on what I need to do to improve as a driver on and off the track, and I can't get caught up on what other people think about how we're performing."
And that includes not paying too much attention to the various musings on Twitter.
"Twitter is not kind sometimes," Kwasniewski said. "When you do go look at Twitter after having these bad races and you see all these people just totally downing you, and it happens everywhere from having a bad race to me just wearing flat-bill hats, and they pick on you for it. You can't get caught up in what other people are thinking about you.
"A lot of the times you want to respond to people and you absolutely want to rip them apart, because some people are just completely irrational. ... You just want to respond back to every single one of these people. But then you think about it like, 'OK, what are these people actually doing?' Then you come to the conclusion that they're sitting behind their computer waiting for an opportunity to have a driver respond to them. That's what they go after."
Kwasniewski says he's learning -- at a very early stage of his career -- to take criticism from the world of social media in stride.
"All they want to see is a response," he said. "So it's tough to keep yourself contained sometimes just because you absolutely want to yell at these people. But yet again, we've signed up for this. We're race car drivers. We'll be in the public eye, and that is something that we have to deal with."