Dylan Kwasniewski has longed been pegged as the next one, and he has racked up the accomplishments to back up those expectations.
Now he takes another major step.
Kwasniewski, 18, announced Monday he will compete in the Nationwide Series, becoming one of four Las Vegans who will drive in one of NASCAR’s top two tiers this season.
He will take the wheel of the No. 31 Chevrolet for Turner Scott Motorsports.
“It’s my dream,” Kwasniewski said. “I’ve been working on it for a while, ever since I was racing at the Bullring (at Las Vegas Motor Speedway), since I was in go-karts. Now we’re actually racing at the national level. We’re going to be racing against (Sprint) Cup drivers, against Cup teams. It’s going to be extraordinary, to say the least.”
Kwasniewski won the K&N Pro Series East title last season for Turner Scott, making him the first driver to win the East and West championships. He captured the West title in 2012.
Continuing with Turner Scott, as well as longtime sponsor Rockstar Energy Drink, could ease the transition, but Kwasniewski will have some new faces on the team as well. That includes crew chief Pat Tryson, who has worked with Las Vegan Kurt Busch, Mark Martin and most recently Nelson Piquet Jr.
“Dylan is a great kid and has unbelievable talent,” team co-owner Harry Scott Jr. said in a statement. “Steve (Turner) and I are thrilled that he is taking the next step in his career with us here at TSM. The sky is the limit for Dylan and this Rockstar team. He showed us what he’s capable of last year and while he’s making a big step, we know Dylan can achieve great things this year.”
Kwasniewski’s first Nationwide race is Feb. 22 at Daytona Beach, Fla.
He tested on that famed 2½-mile track nearly a month ago, running the fastest times in two of the three sessions in which he participated. His final session produced the top overall speed of 190.022 mph, and Kwasniewski said learning side drafting at Daytona was especially crucial.
“I never felt anything like it,” Kwasniewski said. “Getting used to the air and how way it flows on the body is definitely a little bit of a learning curve.”
Kwasniewski said he knows this season will be one big learning experience, but that doesn’t mean his competitive nature has been tempered.
In capturing the K&N Pro Series East title, he won six of 14 races. Losing isn’t something he’s used to.
“Obviously, I want to go out there and win races, but it’s going to be a lot harder to win races than it was last year,” Kwasniewski said. “I’m always going to have high expectations for myself, especially coming off those two championships, but I’m definitely going to have to set my standards a little lower.
“It’s going to be tough because I’m racing against the best of the best in the business now, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to the challenge. I think we’ll be able to do good, and hopefully we’ll be able to get the wins.”
He is the latest to come out of the valley, and Kwasniewski is excited about returning to LVMS to compete in the Boyd Gaming 300 on March 8. He has never raced on the super speedway.
His entry into the Nationwide Series makes him among four local drivers competing this season in NASCAR’s top two tiers, joining Kyle Busch in Sprint Cup and Nationwide, Kurt Busch in Cup and Brendan Gaughan in Nationwide.
“I think it shows you can come from the West Coast and be a bad-ass driver,” Kwasniewski said. “For a long time, the (perception) was that you had to be from the East Coast … to show your stuff to make it in the game. But I think that us drivers that come from Las Vegas, come from California, are absolutely proving them wrong. I hated that for the longest time that everyone said you had to go run in the East.
“I have a long way to go, obviously, but having the established Busch brothers out there showing their stuff is great. It’s great for the West Coast, it’s great for Las Vegas to show we have a lot of talent coming out from here.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.