Sunday, Mar 26

Paul Menard is back in victory lane for the first time since he won the Brickyard 400 in 2011. However, this win is in NASCAR’s second-tier division, the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Menard has won his second career Nationwide Series event in 183 starts as he came out victorious at the Michigan International Speedway on Saturday afternoon for the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 200. With five laps to go, Joey Logano had to pit after leading 43 laps during the race. Logano’s right rear tire gave out as he had a 1.3 second gap over Menard, handing over the No. 33 team their first victory of the year.

“This is a brand new car. It’s good to be back in victory lane. This feels really good,” Menard said. “I was trying to run him down and we were going to catch him a little bit, but we weren’t going to pass him.”

The Wisconsin native lone Nationwide Series win prior to Saturday’s event came in 2006 at Milwaukee while he was driving for Dale Earnhardt Incorporated. In eight prior Nationwide Series starts at Michigan, Menard earned seven top-10s, and nearly went to victory lane in 2012 after leading 37 laps. The victory also marks the first win for Richard Childress Racing in any of the top-three NASCAR divisions since Kevin Harvick won at Phoenix towards the conclusion of the 2013 season.

Sam Hornish Jr., who was racing the No. 20 car for the first time this season, gave Menard a run for his money, but came up less than a half of a second short for the win. Hornish spun out of the second lap after getting loose in Turn 2 – forcing him to race his way from outside of the top-30 to the front of the field. He has finished no worse than fifth in his three Nationwide Series starts this season.

On Lap 79, Dylan Kwasniewski got loose while trying to get around Trevor Bayne for the 11th position. Kwasniewski slid right into Bayne’s No. 6 Ford, sending both cars hard into the outside wall in Turn 2.

"I have to start driving smarter. This is all my fault," Kwasniewski said on the wreck.

Elliott Sadler was running in the second position with 25 laps to go when there was a piece of debris on the grille of his No. 11 car. Sadler attempted to get the debris off his car by letting Earnhardt Jr. go by him, but he was unable to do so – forcing him to pit.

Regan Smith continues to hold the drivers points lead as he is 14 markers ahead of Sadler. Chase Elliott, who finished sixth, is six points behind Sadler in the third position. Elliott was battling Kyle Larson for the lead for the majority of the race, but the two opted to stay out during a caution flag while the majority of the lead lap cars pitted. Then, a caution came out several laps later, forcing them to take four tires while their competitors took either two tires or fuel-only. Larson ended up finishing eighth after leading a race-high 46 laps.

Here are some notables from the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 200 at Michigan:

-Ryan Reed recorded the second best finish of his career and the best result of his season as he finished 11th in the No. 16 Ford.

-Ty Dillon led nine laps early in the race, but ended up finishing ninth as he is 35 points behind Smith in the standings.

-Ross Chastain recorded his best career Nationwide Series finish in his second start as he finished in the 12th position for Hattori Racing Enterprises.

-Landon Cassill raced his way to his seventh top-15 of the season for JD Motorsports as he finished 14th.

-There were six different leaders for a total of 14 lead changes.

Standalone events provide an abundance of opportunities for Nationwide Series drivers. Men such as David Gilliland, Trevor Bayne, Jason Keller, Elliott Sadler, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and other Nationwide Series regulars in the past and present, have been able to lock up race wins during standalone events.

This weekend, the NASCAR Nationwide Series will hit the 7/8-mile track in Newton, Iowa – the Iowa Speedway. Since holding its first Nationwide Series event in 2009, the Iowa Speedway has had five different winners in eight events.  Stenhouse  Jr. dominated the speedway in 2011 and 2012, winning three straight races. However, there are only two drivers who have won a Nationwide Series race at Iowa that are entered in this weekend’s spectacle. Ryan Blaney and James Buescher also have won Camping World Truck Series events at Iowa, and Chase Elliott scored a K&N Pro Series East victory once at Iowa.

Elliott Sadler, coming off of his first win with Joe Gibbs Racing after joining the organization in 2013, is looking to use his momentum to the No. 11 team’s advantage. Sadler scored a victory at Iowa in 2012, and has been a contender for the win in all six events he has run at the track. He was inside of the top-five in the first two practice sessions to begin the weekend, but was eighth in the third practice and 16th in Saturday’s final practice. 

Chase Elliott currently leads the Nationwide Series points standings after nine events. Elliott, 18, participated in his high school graduation ceremony on Saturday morning, causing him to miss final practice. However, he ran a total of 144 laps in the first three practices, and paced two of those three sessions. Elliott’s time of 23.236 seconds during the third practice was the fastest lap recorded throughout the weekend, and might be poised to win his third event of the year.

Brian Scott is still looking for his first career win. With an opportunity weekend, Scott might be able to lock up the victory at Iowa. Scott was quickest in second practice, yet he has finished 6th or worse in seven Iowa starts without any laps led.

Dylan Kwasniewski swapped over to the No. 42 car for Turner Scott Motorsports as Kyle Larson is in Charlotte where he ran the Sprint Showdown on Friday evening. Kwasniewski will be in the car Larson usually pilots during each of the Nationwide Series standalone events. Moreover, Kwasniewski will be paired up with Larson’s crew chief, Scott Zipadelli, rather than his usual crew chief, Pat Tryson. The pair was able to pace final practice with a time of 23.320 seconds. Kwasniewski has just one top-10 finish to start his rookie year in NASCAR’s second-tier division, and a weekend without the Cup Series regulars could lead him to a solid finish.

Sam Hornish Jr. is looking to get his first win for JGR this weekend. Hornish made his debut for the No. 54 team at Talladega, scoring the pole award in his first Nationwide Series race since Homestead at the end of the 2013 season. Hornish has been consistently inside of the top-13 throughout the weekend, and had the fastest 10 consecutive laps average in final practice at 130.371 mph.

Here are some notables for the Get to Know Newton 250 at Iowa:  

-          Chad Boat returns in his family-owned No. 84 car. Boat was outside of the top-15 in each of the first three practices, but was fifth in final practice.

-          AustinTheriault is making his Nationwide Series debut this weekend driving the No. 5 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports. He was 18th or worse in each of the first three practices, but ended the final session in the third position.

-          Ryan Ellis is driving the No. 46 car for The Motorsports Group after running the Camping World Truck Series event for FDNY Racing on Friday evening.

-          Matt DiBenedetto, who usually drives the No. 46 car, has moved over to the No. 40 Chevrolet since Josh Wise is in Charlotte after making the Sprint All-Star Race due to winning the fan vote.

-          Hal Martin is making his season debut for TriStar Motorsports in the No. 44 car. Martin ran the first 10 races for the team last year, but sat out all but two races after that.

-          Caleb Roark is making his Nationwide Series debut for SS Green Light Racing in the No. 55 Chevrolet in conjunction with Viva Motorsports. Roark has five previous starts in the Camping World Truck Series with a best finish of 19th at Martinsville in 2011.

-          Ryan Gifford is making his first of two scheduled starts for Biagi-DenBeste Racing. He has been inside of the top-20 in each of the four practice sessions as he prepares to start his second Nationwide Series event.

-          Cale Conley returns to the Richard Childress Racing No. 33 Chevrolet for his fourth start of the season. Conley has two top-15 finishes this year, and has had a respectable weekend – running inside of the top-20 in each practice session.

The Get to Know Newton 250 can be seen on ESPN on Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. ET. 

Dylan Kwasniewski is different. He is vibrant. He is courageous. He has gone through things that no teenager has gone through. However, he is still young, and the best has yet to come.

At 18-years-old, Kwasniewski is struggling in NASCAR’s second-tier division. Not too many young drivers admit when they make mistakes, yet something is different about Kwasniewski that sets him aside from his peers.

Besides taking the risk of a lifetime by advancing to the NASCAR Nationwide Series instead of racing in the K&N Pro Series East for another season, Kwasniewski made the daring move from Las Vegas to Charlotte, N.C. It is not too rare for an 18-year-old to move out of his house, but Kwasniewski is doing things a little bit different than most kids that opt to go to college or the military.

“It has been tough, and I am still not completely used to it by any means. It is what you have to do. You have to get used to it. This is where the center of racing is. This is where my team is at. This is where everyone in NASCAR is at. It has been tough, and it is definitely different. But I have to get used to it, and I do like it. It is a long process to get acclimated to everything,” Kwasniewski said in an over-the-phone interview.

When he made the move, Kwasniewski became friends with some of his peers such as Darrell Wallace Jr., Ryan Blaney and his teammate, Kyle Larson. Living in the same apartment complex has certainly helped the three drivers. Not only have they helped each other adjust to life off of the track, but they give one another advice about their on track life.

It is a long, grueling journey to race to the top in NASCAR. Kwasniewski is set out to do it. He is just fortunate to be in the situation he is in right now. If it were not for his sponsor, Rockstar Energy, Kwasniewski would likely still be in the lower divisions in the sport. Last summer, during his feature “Flat Out” on AOL, Kwasniewski was seen having numerous meetings with the energy drink company while finishing up his senior year in high school  – hoping they would sign on for a Camping World Truck Series or Nationwide Series slate in 2014. Ultimately, they chose the Nationwide Series after extensive negotiations with the team.

“It showed not only the NASCAR world, but the rest of the world what it is like to move up through the ranks as a young driver. It was more public spotlight and exposure. It was just great overall.”

In that show, Kwasniewski’s immature side was shown. However, since then, he has grown up plenty. However, this show helped him get noticed. It was the setting stone for him to have more meetings with Rockstar, Turner Scott Motorsports and he.

After his first eight races, Kwasniewski has recorded just one top-10 finish (Daytona). He has shown he has a habit of trying too hard. At his home track in Las Vegas, he not only wrecked in qualifying – forcing his team to go to a backup car, but he also wrecked in the race. However, amidst the struggles comes hope for Kwasniewski.

“Well, I think the biggest thing is off track stuff. Once we do get to the race track, and we do get adapted to the tracks, we do alright. I have put myself in some pretty bad spots. I haven’t been as patient as I need to be. I haven’t had the mentality that I had over the last two years with my success in the K&N Series. I just get a little too far over my head. I feel like I need to be outperforming what is expected of me,” Kwasniewski admitted as he elaborated on his struggles.

“When I go out there and don’t get the finishes that I like to, and I really do get frustrated with the car or how our day is going – I put myself in a bad spot and I don’t have the collectiveness to calm myself and make sure I just slow down a little bit. As I see that and see that I need to calm down on the track as well as off the track too, I just need to keep preparing myself for these tracks that I have never been to. I have to do everything I can to try to put myself in a good spot, so when I actually do get onto it (not overdriving), I will be able to learn the nuances of the track.”

As a contender for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award, Kwasniewski is set out to have a tenacious battle with point’s leader, Chase Elliott, along with fellow rookies, Ty Dillon and Chris Buescher as it stands after eight contests. If he wants to contend for this prestigious award, he will have to start improving, and fast.

Working with veteran crew chief, Pat Tryson, appears to be helping Kwasniewski. But even that might not be enough to solve a young driver’s overeager driving style. Moreover, Kwasniewski has begun to himself for the team’s struggles – something that he understands won’t help the situation.

“Obviously, for any crew chief, it is going to be tough to try to understand everything we need to try to get that communication better and start making good changes so that we can be in that good place that we need for the car.  Like I said, we have been struggling a little bit in every aspect of it, but I think me and Pat have been working well. The crew guys have been making an awesome effort like they need to be. There is not a lack of dedication or a lack of hard work. Our team is working really hard to make sure that these cars are good. I just need to do my part to prove to them that we are working hard for a reason. We can go out there and win races,” said Kwasniewski about working with his new crew chief.

The hardest part about adjusting to the hectic Nationwide Series schedule for Kwasniewski has been going to new tracks. He is used to racing at short tracks. He grew up racing on short tracks – racing go-carts in Connecticut as well as Phoenix, and then Bandolero’s in the midst of Sin City. When he started dominating the K&N Pro Series West and East, Kwasniewski was only able to race on a handful of tracks which NASCAR’s top ranks compete within.

Not going to the tracks has put him behind. Sure, he has Tryson’s experience, but that is all. Kwasniewski has been smart, however, as he goes to his Turner Scott Motorsports teammate, arson, for advice. Larson, 21, is competing for the Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year award, and just won that accolade last season in the Nationwide Series. However, even though he is doing well, there is not much in Larson’s arsenal to help Kwasniewski advance his setups since it is his sophomore year in NASCAR’s second-tier division.

“I think that the biggest thing is watching the in-car camera footage and footage of the races, but as well as just talking to every driver that I can from my teammate, Kyle (Larson), and really any driver that is willing to open up and bring me into their bag of tricks. I thing that is really big, watching the in-car camera because you get the lifting points, the braking points and just trying to get into the mode of how you are going to be on the race track. Tracks like Daytona are kind of straight forward because of how they are. But at these other tracks, it is good to get that in your head so you at least have an idea when you get on the race track,” Kwasniewski said as he described his struggles in attempting to learn tracks.

Even with some struggles, Kwasniewski is learning.

His struggles have led for Kwasniewski to become more mature. Entering the season, there was speculation that Kwasniewski was not mature enough for the Nationwide Series because of his different personality. Some even judged him, and still do, because he wears a different type of hat with his sponsor’s logo slammed all over it. But this adversity has made him an even stronger racer.

Recently, Kwasniewski signed a driver-development with one of NASCAR’s larger teams – Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Ganassi already has Larson driving the No. 42 Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, but the team is a two-car organization with veteran racer, Jamie McMurray, in the team’s second car. Therefore, there is no need to rush Kwasniewski up to the Cup Series, and that is the least of his concerns – at least for now.

“It is a long process like anything. To do a contract like that takes a lot, but they saw potential in me just like they saw with Kyle Larson, and they are willing to take a risk on young guys. It is great. It is great for the sport. It has proven to other team owners that you can develop a driver, and stick to the roots with the young guys. I need to show the guys over there that it was worth it, and that the potential that they saw will pay off in the long run,” Kwasniewski said.

“It is hard to pinpoint what time you would want to move up to Cup. But it all depends on when I believe I am ready for it, or when Chip Ganassi believe I am ready for it. There is not really a number that you can put on it, but I have to be confident in my own ability that I am ready to move up. It will be at least two to three years, which is for sure. I want to establish myself in this series first before I move up. I definitely don’t want to move up too quick by any means.”

Not only has Kwasniewski been trying to prove he is capable of racing in these larger, more powerful automobiles, but he has been spending time at the shop as well. In this era, it is important for a young driver to show his credibility to an organization, and Kwasniewski is doing just that with CGR and TSM.

“I just get in there and show the guys that I am here for support.  I go to the Turner shop and hang out there. I go to (Chip) Ganassi (Racing with Felix Sabates) and talk as much as I can over there. I just need to learn to utilize what I have and what is around me a little more, so we can be more prepared and start doing a little bit better,” Kwasniewski said.

Kwasniewski’s development contract will surely lead him to the Cup Series sooner rather than later. However, he needs to start proving he is mature enough to compete for wins. Wrecking cars and learning is one thing, but doing so while running mid-pack is another thing. When Larson was having a rough start to his Nationwide Series campaign, he was running towards the higher part of the field. However, Kwasniewski has not finished higher than 11th since Daytona, and the struggles don’t seem to be going away after another crash at Richmond.

Moving forward, Kwasniewski has a lot to prove. Not only does he have to keep his emotions together on the track, but he also needs to show he is able to live alone just like his peers in an apartment complex right near the Turner Scott Motorsports shop. Now that he has a development deal with a Cup Series stable, Kwasniewski can focus on his learning curve. He will make mistakes. He is not immortal. However, he is a teenager. He can have fun, but he needs to prove he is going to be a vital force for Chip Ganassi’s team in the years to come.

“I need to prove more of the mentality that I had the last two years. I was in the right state of mind the last two years where I had the right mentality to win two championships. Even though it was in a different series, a less competitive series with a lesser spotlight, but I was very patient. I went through a lot of stuff. A lot of adversity, and I need to take that mentality into this year. I need to be more patient, more forgiving, understand a little bit more about it and stop trying to go out there and trying to get something out of the car that I can’t. I need to be content with where I finish and be happy with it going from a race finish to the next race. I need to improve myself. I need to show them that I can compete with the best of the best with these Sprint Cup Series drivers in the Nationwide Series.”



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