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Wallace Jr., Dylan K, Kennedy talk NASCAR Next

April 19, 2014, Holly Cain,

Young drivers touch on how the NASCAR Next experience benefitted them

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Officially they are known as NASCAR’s "Next" but the reality is more like NASCAR’s "Now."

Dylan Kwasniewski, Ben Kennedy and Darrell Wallace Jr. led a crop of young, up-and-coming talented identified by NASCAR as future stars but the future turned out to be a lot closer to the present.

The two-time K&N Pro Series champ Kwasniewski, 18, won the pole position in his very first Nationwide Series start at Daytona International Speedway in February.

Kennedy, great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., was on pole at his family’s Daytona track in his first Camping World Truck Series start there in February.

And Wallace, 20, is already a NASCAR national series winner, with a victory at the super tough Martinsville, Va. half-miler lastseason in only his second Camping World Truck Series start there.

No pressure or anything on the new NASCAR Next Class that will be announced next Friday at Richmond International Raceway.

"I'm sure when they come out . ..with a new lineup, I'm sure that class will have a ton of potential," said Kennedy, who drives the No. 31 Chevrolet for Turner Scott Motorsports.

Wallace said he's already "pulling for" the new class, wishing them the kind of success, fun and exposure that these three experienced over the last year-plus.

The trio spoke this week about their time representing the program, how they’ve fared under the spotlight, their greatest struggles to date and what advice they have for the incoming group of NASCAR Next.

"I think the biggest thing. .. is getting used to the cameras, being more acclimated to talking with everybody [in the media] and kind of just getting used to being in the spotlight because hopefully we will be in it in the future to come," Kwasniewski said.

Added Kennedy, "Being able to work with all these great drivers, it made a really good bond with everyone throughout the whole program."

This group of drivers in particular made the talent scouts look good.

Kwasniewski, the only driver to ever win both the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West division titles, not only became the youngest Nationwide Series pole-winner in Daytona history, but answered his impressive start with a top-10 finish (eighth).

A month later, team owner Chip Ganassi signed him to a driver development deal with the idea of eventually moving him up to the Sprint Cup Series ranks -- exactly what the NASCAR Next platform was designed to yield.

Wallace, also a graduate of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program, is the first of the group to hoist a national series trophy – or in his case to bring home a grandfather clock as is the Martinsville, Va. track’s traditional victory award.

"Bubba" – the name he prefers to go by – immediately lived up to his billing, scoring three top-10s in four Nationwide starts as an 18-year old in 2012.

Last year the Kyle Busch Motorsports truck series driver became the first African American since Wendell Scott in 1963 to win a NASCAR national series race and returned this year to make a real run at the truck championship. Two weeks ago at Martinsville he won the pole and finished runner-up and is ranked eighth in points right now.

He says it was a drastic step up to the big time and the next group of NASCAR Next can expect that as well.

"The quickest thing I had to learn was the new tracks that we've been to," Wallace said, recounting a vivid example of a high speed "schooling" that still sticks with him.

"A prime example for me was Kansas [last year] when Kyle [Busch] spun out early in the race, I was running 12th or something. I looked back to see where he was and he was next to last. No lie, two laps later he's passing on the outside line and I was sitting on jack stands.

"It was incredible to see how much experience and talent plays out once you get up to the top three series because it’s a huge jump."

Kennedy, 22, who graduates with a sports management degree from the University of Florida next month, agrees that there is no replacement for experience when it comes to competing in a national series.

"You've seen it on TV and everything, but I feel you can only get so much out of watching races until you actually get out there and drive hard in the corner [and] you feel the bumps and everything," Kennedy said, who finished third in the truck race at Martinsville -- right behind Wallace -- and has a pair of top-five finishes in seven truck starts in 2013-14. He's ranked sixth in the championship entering the next race, May 9 at Kansas.

All three of these drivers repeatedly spoke about he camaraderie they established as one of the best points of the NASCAR Next experience. They have high hopes for the next group.

"It will be exciting to see who is in the new class now and what they can do out there on the race track. … it'll be fun to watch for sure," Wallace said.

Advice for the incoming class?

"It's a cool program to be a part of," Wallace said, "Just got to stick with it."


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