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NASCAR: 18-year-old Dylan Kwasniewski on fast track

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Thursday, Mar. 13, 2014

He’s already a NASCAR race winner and a two-time NASCAR series champion.

And now Dylan Kwasniewski has likely cemented a path to NASCAR’s premier Sprint Cup Series.

Oh, and by the way, he’s only 18 years old.

Kwasniewski, a Las Vegas native, has no problems living life in the fast lane, but even he is astonished by the remarkable speed with which his NASCAR career path has developed.

Last weekend in Las Vegas, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates announced it had signed Kwasniewski to a driver development contract. The upstart is already competing this season in the Nationwide Series with Turner Scott Motorsports, but the move ensures his progression in NASCAR will come with the Ganassi organization.

“We obviously think Dylan is a pretty unique talent. We’ve certainly been impressed by his statistics. You can see that he certainly has the pedigree we look for as a team,” team owner Chip Ganassi said.

“Some people say he’s a marketer’s dream, so that’s always a good thing in this sport. I’ll let other people in the organization worry about those things. I’m just looking for somebody that can wheel one of these things.”

In a relatively short period, Kwasniewski has amassed an impressive resume.

Kwasniewski won the 2013 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship and became the first driver to win both the K&N Pro Series West and East titles, doing so in consecutive seasons.

He won his first race in the East series last season at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, where he will compete Saturday in the Drive to End Diabetes 300 Nationwide race. He finished last season with a series-high six wins and was named to the NASCAR Next Program, which identifies the future stars of the sport.

Ganassi has a record with his NASCAR organization of tapping into young talent and giving drivers a shot at the Cup series – including Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson, both of whom drive for Ganassi.

“Our team has always had an eye for looking down the road,” Ganassi said. “I don’t think I’m single-handedly carrying the flag for developmental drivers. It’s an opportunity we wanted to jump on.”

While many top NASCAR teams have done away with driver development programs in the past several years, Ganassi’s move with first Larson, and now Kwasniewski, may indicate another change in direction.

“We’re seeing a shift right now in that young guys are having a chance to show their talents,” said Kwasniewski, who will make just his fourth Nationwide start this weekend. “We want to show everyone that we can race with these guys, but we have to gain respect in the sport.

“Right now, I’m trying to get my bearings. I’ve got to show the world I’m a good race car driver.”

He got off to a strong start this season, winning the pole for the season opener at Daytona International Speedway and finishing a solid eighth. He was 13th at Phoenix but struggled at Las Vegas, wrecking in practice and in the race, and finishing 24th.

Kwasniewski vowed his new deal will not change his approach to his NASCAR future.

“It definitely allows you the best possible way to get to the top,” he said. “Hopefully, I can show the entire organization that I’m here to race and here to make it in the sport.”

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter.

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