Season struggles continue for NNS rookie Kwasniewski

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It’s been a rough rookie season in the Nationwide Series for Dylan Kwasniewski.

The 19-year-old Las Vegas native came into the series billed as a potential star of the future, having spent two years as part of the NASCAR Next group of up-and-coming drivers.

He won the K&N Pro Series West championship at the age of 17 in 2012, and the K&N Pro Series East title at the age of 18 in 2013, becoming the only driver in K&N history to earn titles in both east- and west-coast based series.

He also was featured on a web-based reality series, “Flat Out,” which followed Kwasniewski both on and off the racetrack, highlighting not only his racing endeavors, but also his personal and family life.

With all those good things going for him, it seemed like he was ready to make the big move to the Nationwide Series, which potentially would be nothing more than a stopover point for Kwasniewski on his way up to the Sprint Cup Series.

But it has not been an easy road for Kwasniewski. In 21 NNS starts this season, he’s failed to earn a win or even a top-five finish, and has just two top-10 showings to his credit.

He’s had nine finishes of 20th or worse.

Also, after being as high as fifth in the season rankings after the second race of the season (Phoenix), Kwasniewski has been stuck in 12th-place in the series standings for eight of the last nine races.

He’s also been involved in several wrecks, including three DNFs directly related to crashes.

Things became so rough that just before last month’s race at Chicagoland, the driver of the Rockstar Energy Chevrolet saw veteran crew chief Pat Tryson relieved of his duties and reassigned within the TSM organization.

Shannon Rursch replaced Tryson as crew chief.

But the crew chief change has not greatly affected Kwasniewski’s success factor in their first four races together. While he earned finishes of 17th and 14th, followed by a ninth-place showing last week at Iowa, his second-best finish of the season, Kwasniewski once again had a mediocre 27th-place showing Saturday at Watkins Glen, finishing one lap off the lead lap.

It’s been a trying season, hasn’t it, Dylan?

“I definitely set high expectations for myself,” Kwasniewski recently told his hometown newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “So I’m a little bit disappointed in my finishes so far. But to me, the big thing is to finish the races and to gain all the experience I can by completing every lap.

“Once you finish the laps and finish the race, then the good finishes will come after that.”

Kwasniewski has been criticized for being overly aggressive, but that’s nothing unusual for a series rookie. Many other drivers have been accused of – and been guilty of – the same thing.

The most recent episode of too much aggresiveness came in Saturday’s race at The Glen, when Kwasniewski was involved in two different run-ins with series veteran Regan Smith, who confronted the young rookie while still in his car on pit road after the race (Smith finished 17th, Kwasniewski 27th).

“It was nothing, I’m fine,” Smith told ESPN. “I had two runs on him. The second time, he just didn’t give at the point in the race he should have give. He said he wasn’t trying to wreck me, that he just was mad.”

Smith is under contract as a development driver for Chip Ganassi Racing. But it’s likely he’ll be staying in the Nationwide Series for at least a couple more seasons of seasoning and development before promoting him to Sprint Cup is broached.

“We were set up to have a lot of good finishes — a lot of top 10s and even some top fives,” Kwasniewski said of several races earlier this season. “Then I ended up screwing up because I was trying to overextend. That’s my competitive nature.

“I made some mistakes, and I ended up wrecking some cars. You can’t learn anything from that, so I’ve got a little different mentality.”

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MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

Follow @KyleMLavigne