Beth Lunkenheimer · Friday November 1, 2013
Since we last talked, Dylan Kwasniewski won the K&N Pro Series East championship in our first year of competition in the series. He’s gone nationwide now. He’s not Nationwide racing yet, but he’s gone nationwide by winning the West championship last year and the East this year. He’s worked so hard and there’s no question that he deserves it. The guys deserve it—we’ve talked about it before about how hard they work, what a close-knit group they are, how dedicated they are and how they’re real racers. It shows in their performance, it shows in their attitudes, and we’ve been fortunate enough to get drivers like Dylan that are extremely talented and are going to be very successful and have long careers in NASCAR. To see Dylan dominate the race and then win the championship was very gratifying as a first year K&N Series owner. We attained the goal we set out for, and that was special. Dylan has worked really hard, his mom has worked really hard to get him where he is, and it’s a really gratifying situation.
This championship, along with Dylan’s performance, is like validation for that branch of the team. We’ve had some really good success in recruiting our drivers for next year. We don’t have any announcements to make at this point, but we will have a great lineup for next year, and the fact that we’re able to recruit these guys and gals for our East program is just a testament to how well we’ve done as an organization. It’s not just Dylan—Kenzie [Ruston] has done a great job, along with some of the other drivers. It’s not just a one-team sensation.
I would give our first year in the series a solid A-. If I was judging the team and the people and what they’ve been able to do in the time-frame they’ve been able to do it, it’s an A+. I’m not going to give it an A until our drivers finish 1, 2, 3, 4, but all things considered, I don’t know how this season could have gone much better. They started with an empty race shop in January and no cars, and they ended up with the championship. You really can’t ask much more from a group than that.
Moving on to the Truck Series, all of our guys involved in the wrecks at Talladega are doing well. They were experiencing a bit of soreness the day after, but other than that, they were very lucky. It was a scary deal for sure. It’s a testament to how well NASCAR protects these drivers with the design of the trucks, and the fact that they can get out and walk away from that, walk out of the care center after just having a cursory check-over and be fine after going through something like that is almost beyond belief. We were all worried about James Buescher when he went head-on into the wall, and we were also disappointed in what kind of a points day that would turn out to be. Talladega on the Truck Series side was a tough day for the team. We destroyed three trucks, and that’s never good. You get three drivers who are banged up, a bad points day and you lose three trucks. Luckily, we weren’t going to use our superspeedway trucks again this year, so we’ve got some time to recover.
When something like Talladega happens, NASCAR will take pictures of the trucks and they’ll take it back to the R&D center. They try to figure out exactly what happened and if there’s anything they can do to make it even safer. NASCAR doesn’t formally give us the results of their safety investigations, but there are always ongoing safety conversations between the teams and NASCAR. They’re very open with it, they’ll tell you what their thoughts are and if there are any rules changes that come of it, of course the entire garage is privy to that.
When the trucks are that torn up, it’s a challenge to get them back in the haulers without making a mess. If one is totally destroyed, we have to send a rollback down to the race track to pick them up and bring them home because they won’t go into the haulers. It’s a whole lot of work for everyone when that happens just cleaning up from the incident and getting the trucks home. That doesn’t include what you’ve got to do once you get back home, but getting them back home is the first challenge.
Moving forward to the Phoenix Racing side of things, Justin Allgaier’s race at Kansas didn’t end the way we had hoped, but I’m proud of how well Justin has raced in the 51. He was running inside the top 20, and that was a wicked tire/track combination. He said he just hit a seam wrong and got loose. He tried to correct it, and as soon as he got off the seam, he had grip again and the correction ended up being a little bit of an over-correction. But before that during practice and everywhere else, he had run really well, so we were very encouraged by his performance there as we were at Talladega.
He did a really good job there at Talladega; we lost the pack at the end. We had a couple errors on pit road where he came in a little hot and slid through the pit box. There were stops where we intended to take two tires like a lot of the other guys, but when you slide through the pit box, you have to take four. We ended up losing the lead pack, but we thought it was going to come to us. We weren’t too worried because we thought they were going to have the big one and we’d be able to get caught back up. But before that, I think he ran as high as sixth. He had a solid car—it was the one they ran at Daytona in February that Regan Smith finished seventh in. We had done some updates to it and hopefully made it even better. We got our car back—that’s always a plus at a place like Talladega.
I think he learned a lot. One of the reasons we selected that race was because he wanted speedway experience in a Cup car. He’s got one more start at Phoenix with BRANDT as a sponsor. They’re so important to the sport; not only are they a good sponsor, but they’re also good stewards too.
Obviously the Cup race was quite a bit tamer than the Truck Series race at Talladega. I didn’t expect the Cup race to be quite as tame as it was. They got single-file there in the last five or six laps, and by getting single-file, it just leads to tamer racing. The Cup guys are a bit more experienced and have a better sense on average of when to push it and when not to push it. Frankly, a lot of those guys have been involved in big incidents on speedways and they don’t want to be a part of the next one. Some of the truck guys haven’t had the benefit of being a part of it. It’s a matter of more experience than anything in the Cup Series, and it makes them a little bit more careful in the speedway races.
I wish I could say I’ve had time to do things off-track lately, but all of my efforts at this point have been towards racing. The Phoenix transition is going really well. We’re still getting our feet under ourselves there and planning for next year. We’ve already got our Daytona car on the floor, so that’s a good thing. I really haven’t had time to do anything else. It’s been seven days a week on racing. I am looking forward to the offseason where I can catch my breath a little bit and get some things organized. Right now we’re just running wide open. Every race beginning this weekend is all three series, and it’s a lot to handle when we’re involved in all three series. We’re ready for it, and we’re ready to come up with some strong finishes to finish the season up on a positive note. Obviously we don’t wish for anything bad to happen to anyone, but we’re not giving up on James and his hopes at the championship either. That’s been his team’s motto for a while now, and we’ve got to keep doing what we do so that no matter what happens, we can be in the best position to capitalize on it.
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