The opening weekend at Daytona Beach, Fla., went so well that it appeared Dylan Kwasniewski wouldn’t have much trouble adjusting to the highest level of competition in his young racing career.
But the season hasn’t quite gone that smoothly, though the 19-year-old from Las Vegas hasn’t exactly embarrassed himself, either.
He is 12th in the NASCAR Nationwide Series points standings, but that eighth-place finish in Daytona remains his only top-10 showing. Kwasniewski began that race from the pole.
“I definitely set high expectations for myself,” he said. “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.”
His team made one significant change in an effort to put together a strong finish in the Turner Scott Motorsports No. 31 Chevrolet. Shannon Rursch was promoted to be the new crew chief two weeks ago, replacing Pat Tryson.
“We think he deserves a chance,” Kwasniewski said of Rursch. “He’s been my car chief all year. He has the ability to run as a crew chief.”
Hopes remain high for Kwasniewski, who is the only driver to win the East and West NASCAR K&N Pro Series — the level just below NASCAR’s top three main series. He also signed to be a developmental driver for Chip Ganassi Racing, a sign the big boys in Sprint Cup are keeping an eye on him.
Kwasniewski has long produced results beyond his age, so this has been a different type of season and learning experience. He has forced himself to think about being prudent more often, rather than constantly going for big race-changing moments.
“We were set up to have a lot of good finishes — a lot of top 10s and even some top fives,” Kwasniewski said. “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.”
He also has been forced to adjust his expectations based on the early results of this season.
Kwasniewski still would love to end the season with a victory but is more concerned with top-10 finishes and carrying some momentum over to his sophomore season.
Claiming some top 10s should be realistic because he now gets to make second visits to most of the tracks left on the schedule, beginning Saturday at Newton, Iowa. He finished 11th there on May 18, so a top 10 certainly is doable.
Applying what he learned on the initial visit there and most of the remaining tracks will be crucial to what kind of performances Kwasniewski can put together to end this season.
“Trying to get up to speed and your groove on these (tracks) is tough,” he said. “You don’t have that much practice time. You’ve only got about two hours, maybe a little more. It goes by really quick. Then you have to get used to the track when you get into race situations.
“Qualifying’s one thing. We always have speed, but until you get out there and feel how the air feels in the pack or what you do with dirty air, it’s tough to predict that until you actually get in a race situation and you feel these things for the first time.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.