Terry Renna / AP
Sunday, March 9, 2014 | 1:18 p.m.
Chip Ganassi Racing signed 18-year-old Dylan Kwasniewski to be its next development driver on Sunday, adding another top young talent to its stable.
Ganassi announced the deal with Kwasniewski shortly before the start of the NASCAR race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kwasniewski's hometown track.
"Obviously, Dylan is a raw talent at this age, but we think he has all the pieces to excel," Ganassi said. "I think it's important to have a pipeline, and he's the next driver in that pipeline."
Ganassi said the teen probably is still a few years away from being ready for a NASCAR ride, but the development deal means Kwasniewski will get a head start in learning how to be a Sprint Cup driver. He'll see the inner workings of the Ganassi team, learning alongside its two drivers, Jamie McMurray and 21-year-old Kyle Larson.
"It's a dream come true," said Kwasniewski, who graduated from nearby Faith Lutheran High School last summer. "It definitely allows you the best possible way to get to the top. Hopefully I can show the entire organization that I'm here to race and here to make it in the sport."
Kwasniewski is in his first season as a full-time driver in the Nationwide Series for Turner Scott Motorsports, dramatically winning the pole in Daytona two weeks ago. He finished 24th in Saturday's Vegas race after a bump from Chris Buescher put him into the wall on the 70th lap, but he sits eighth in the overall Nationwide points standings through three races.
Kwasniewski won the K&N Pro Series West in 2012 and won the K&N Pro Series East last year, becoming the first driver to win both titles in back-to-back seasons and marking him as a future star.
Kwasniewski already is Larson's Nationwide teammate at Turner Scott, and he intends to lean on his fellow prodigy for advice and friendly competition. They're among a promising crop of young drivers including 18-year-old Chase Elliott, who finished fifth in Saturday's Nationwide race.
The signing by Ganassi also is the latest attempt to bridge the generations in racing. While Kwasniewski usually wears a flat-brimmed cap from sponsor Rockstar Energy Drink, he was bare-headed in his appearance with Ganassi and fellow owner Felix Sabates.
"We're seeing a shift in the sport right now, seeing young guys get an opportunity to show we can go out and race with these guys," Kwasniewski said. "We've got to get new fans in the sport. We've got to get a younger crowd, and hopefully I can be a part of that, maybe bringing some of that X Games feel, but also do it respectfully."
The concept of development drivers was popular in NASCAR several years ago, but fell out of fashion in recent years. Ganassi remains committed to the idea, developing Larson into a full-time Cup driver before extending the same opportunity to Kwasniewski.
Ganassi acknowledged the possibility of adding a third NASCAR ride for Kwasniewski in a few years if the young driver progresses as expected. The owner said the signing was not an attempt to pressure McMurray, who enjoys his strong support.
"If need ever be to plug (Kwasniewski) in, we hope he would be able to assimilate more quickly going forward," Ganassi said. "I think our team has always had a good eye down the road, and I think to think I have a little more runway than some of these owners."