Season struggles continue for NNS rookie Kwasniewski

1 Comment

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.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Column: Contrasting Michael Schumacher’s and Robert Wickens’ situations

(Photo: Tony Gentile / Reuters)
3 Comments

As much of the world looks forward to Christmas and New Years Day in the next few weeks, a dark anniversary is also on the near horizon.

It’s hard to believe that December 29 will mark five years since seven-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher was critically injured in a skiing accident, suffering a traumatic brain injury.

Schumacher and his family were on holiday in the French Alps when he fell and struck his head on a boulder. The impact was so severe that it cracked the helmet he was wearing straight through.

One can only imagine the damage the impact did to Schumacher’s skull and brain.

While chronologically the accident occurred a half-decade ago, for many of “Schu’s” most ardent fans, it seems like it was just yesterday when the earth-shattering news broke.

In the following days and weeks after his accident, Schumacher was placed in a medically induced coma, as well as had at least two surgeries on his brain.

Since then the world has waited for news about the racing legend’s condition, only to receive very little in terms of updates over the subsequent five years.

That’s the way his family wants it, having repeatedly requested privacy when it comes to details about Michael’s condition. That request for privacy should be respected.

Schumacher’s wife, Corrina, issued a rare statement late last month that didn’t really say much about her husband’s condition or recovery, but she did thank fans and well-wishers for their continued prayers and concern about her husband, adding, “We all know Michael is a fighter and will not give up.”

In the meantime, Schumacher’s fans have been able to stay somewhat close to his legacy by watching as his 19-year-old son, Mick, has showed significant achievement in his own budding racing career.

So much so that rumors have already popped up that the younger Schu may soon follow in his father’s F1 footsteps, perhaps as early as 2020.

That, of course, remains to be seen.

What makes the Schumacher situation so difficult for many to still understand is how, while enjoying a simple skiing excursion with his family, he suffered a life-changing accident while having survived some wicked crashes during his racing career that barely affected him.

We still don’t know if Schumacher can walk, talk, is conscious and lucid or not – and many of his fans have already accepted that we may never, ever know any of those details. But if that’s the way he and/or his family want it, again, then we need to respect their wishes.

At the same time, there’s another race car driver who suffered a horrendous injury at Pocono Raceway this past August, namely IndyCar driver Robert Wickens.

Wickens suffered a devastating spinal cord injury that has left him a paraplegic – although there remains a great deal of hope that he will one day walk again.

While both suffered serious injuries, there’s a significant contrast between Schumacher and Wickens. The former (or his family) is keeping all details about his condition private, while the latter keeps his fans and supporters regularly updated on social media on how he’s doing.

That includes Wickens posting a number of videos, including some rather humorous ones where he has a mischievous look in his eyes or a good-natured smirk on his face — like bringing in a Christmas tree to his rehab facility, or “racing” teammate James Hinchcliffe in wheelchairs in a Days of Thunder homage of sorts.

Watching each new Wickens video or reading his most recent online messages, it’s very clear that expressing himself and reaching out to the world is indeed good therapy and medicine of sorts for the Canadian driver.

He needs those social media posts and videos as much as we need them from him.

And it also helps fans better understand where Wickens is at in his recovery and rehab.

If Schumacher or his family wish to still remain private about his condition, we must respect that. But perhaps they could see the good will and good tidings that Wickens’ videos and posts offer. They’re as good for Wickens’ own well-being as they are for his fans — and they could be equally as good for Schumacher, his family and his fans.

Follow @JerryBonkowski