Dylan Kwasniewski at home in Las Vegas
March 07, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
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LAS VEGAS – Dylan Kwasniewski started attending NASCAR races at his hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway when he was nine years old, his first race spent atop family friend Robby Gordon’s pit box. For most of the past half decade he raced Super Late Models and Modifieds at the "Bullring" -- the short track located in the mighty speedway’s shadow.
This weekend, the 18-year old Kwasniewski has arrived and emerged. He’ll make his big track debut in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series’ Boyd Gaming 300.
"It’s pretty surreal, the only laps I’ve ever had on here were with the [Richard] Petty Experience [driving school]," Kwasniewski said.
"Hopefully I’ll have the advantage of having my hometown crowd cheering me on, with family and friends here watching.
"It’s just going to be a good experience no matter what the finish will be, to be here racing against these guys at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it’s a dream come true."
"Hopefully," he added with a laugh. "We’ll have some speed and not suck in front of my hometown."
Kwasniewski had speed in the No. 31 Rockstar Chevrolet for sure, turning in the 15th fastest lap at one point during NASCAR Nationwide Series opening practice on the 1.5-mile high banks.
But 10 minutes later, he slammed the Turn 4 wall, badly damaging his Chevy, but not daunting his determination.
The Turner Scott Motorsports team quickly had a back-up car prepared for him and he was among the top-20 fastest in the second practice.
"It sucks," a disappointed Kwasniewski said as watched his crew get the back-up car ready. "We were loose and I should have just pulled it in and instead ended up overcorrecting. You’ve got to push it and I just pushed it too hard.
"We’ll bounce back and it’s not going to stop me from going back out and trying my hardest again."
A two-time NASCAR K&N Series champion, Kwasniewski is already proving his mettle in the Nationwide Series among a stellar group of seven high profile rookies. He won the pole position in the Daytona season opener – his first ever race in the series – and sits fifth in points after two races with finishes of eighth and 13th.
"I knew if we could get out of Daytona with the car in tact we’d be on track," Kwasniewski said. "I am surprised I’m doing this well, but I’d like to be doing better than I am.
"I’m my toughest critic. I want to be better than whatever I’m doing, even if I’m second I want to win. My team at Turner Scott Motorsports is a lot of great guys and we’re gelling right now. I want to improve each time I go out."
That mindset doesn’t surprise his biggest fan: his mom Jennifer.
"My husband had a saying, it takes Dylan three races and one wreck before he settles in," Jen Kwasniewski said with a smile.
And, why not Las Vegas as the prime setting for her son’s maiden win in a NASCAR national series. About 50 family friends will be in the grandstands cheering on Kwasniewski’s debut. And probably a lot of Kwasniewski’s former crew members and competitors from the neighboring Bullring as well.
"The guys I raced at the Bullring think it’s cool I’m getting to race here because it could pave the way for them as well," Kwasniewski said. "[Las Vegas natives] Kyle and Kurt [Busch] did that for us. Hopefully I can pave the way as well."
Mother and son moved to Charlotte this year to be closer to NASCAR’s hub and Kwasniewski’s team. But both say they’ve enjoyed the trip back out West, and are savoring the significance.
"Coming back to Vegas I decided to experience it for what it is," Kwasniewski said grinning. "I went to a show, took a helicopter tour, which is pretty cool. I’d never done any of those things even though I lived in Las Vegas a long time. I decided to live it up, live like I’m a tourist.
"I get to stay in my friend’s house, sleep in a comfortable bed and yet also be a tourist for the first time. See my friends who I haven’t seen in a long time. … It’s cool to wind down, relax in my home city. It’s good to just feel comfortable in the place I know best."
And it’s been a long time coming.
"This is where it all started, this is probably the dream my husband saw the first time he brought Dylan to a race here," Jennifer Kwasniewski said of her late husband Randy, a former CEO and President of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
In addition to his obvious talent behind the steering wheel, Kwasniewski has boy-band good looks and the kind of friendly, polite demeanor that makes a parent proud. All the indications are that he’s got a neon-bright future ahead in NASCAR.
And this weekend that comes full circle on the big oval in his hometown.