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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Dylan Kwasniewski made more history Saturday night.
The 17-year-old Las Vegas driver captured the 2012 championship in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West with a second-place finish in the Casino Arizona 50 at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday.
A year after becoming the youngest race winner and youngest rookie of the year in series history, he became the youngest champ.
Kwasniewski entered the event with a two-point lead over teammate and defending series champion Greg Pursley in one of the closest championship battles in the history of the series.
“All we had to do was finish in front of Greg and that’s what we did,” Kwasniewski said. “I couldn’t be more proud of my team and my mom. My dad started all this for me and this race was for him and this championship is for him,” Kwasniewski said of his late father. “To be out here in Phoenix and to get the championship, there’s no better feeling.”
Michael Self, who started the race on the outside of the front row, shot into the lead at the drop of the green flag and paced the entire 50 laps to score his third career win – all this season.
“It was an unbelievable race,” Self said. “The car we had, the Golden Gate Racing Team No. 21, was phenomenal lap after lap and never missed a beat. From the start, we knew what we had to do. A 50-lap race is really short. We knew the tires would last the entire length. So, it was just get out and get in front as early as we can and pull a gap. That’s exactly what we did.”
Kwasniewski started fourth in his No. 03 Royal Purple/Rockstar Ford and moved up to second, while Pursley started 11th but could get no closer than sixth by the finish. Kwasniewski finished with a six-point margin over Pursley for the championship.
At 17 years 5 months 10 days, Kwasniewski eclipsed the previous record set by Chuck Bown in 1976 at 22 years, 7 months, 11 days.
“I haven’t even taken that into consideration yet,” Kwasniewski said of setting the record. “It’s awesome. All of this started with my dad. This was his legacy and I wanted to make sure this happened for him. Finally, we got a championship. It’s all thanks to my crew and the guys that worked every day for this. All I had to do was go out there and drive. I have to thank the crew for it. It was a great year.”
Cale Conley, who won the 21 Means 21 Pole Award presented by Coors Brewing Co., finished third Saturday night. Chase Elliott and Cameron Hayley were fourth and fifth, respectively. Completing the top 10 were Greg Pursley, David Mayhew, Bryan Ortiz, Brett Thompson and Ben Kennedy.
Austin Dyne finished 13th to secure the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award by one point over Hayley.
Derek Thorn – who started third, but faded to 27th – finished third in the championship standings behind Kwasniewski and Pursley. He is followed in points by Eric Holmes and David Mayhew. Completing the top 10 in the final standings are Self, Hayley, Dyne, Jonathon Gomez and Ryan Philpott.
Kwasniewski joins Kyle Larson, who won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East title, as two members of the 2012 Next9 class to win NASCAR championships. The Next9 is an industry initiative designed to spotlight the sport's next wave of national-series stars.
“I think the NASCAR Next9 is definitely the future of the sport,” Kwasniewski said. “We’ve proven it on the race track. Kyle won the (K&N East) championship and we just won the (K&N West) championship here. We’ve definitely got a lot of good drivers and I think that group of Next9 is going to be the next nine you’re going to see in the future (NASCAR Sprint) Cup Series. It’s really good to be part of this. It’s a group of elite drivers and I’m thankful to be part of it.”
Kwasniewski will be crowned as part of the NASCAR Night of Champions Awards banquet, which will include ceremonies for the seven NASCAR touring series on Saturday, Dec. 8 at the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The inaugural UNOH Battle at the Beach will take place Feb. 18-19 on a .4-mile oval on the backstretch at Daytona International Speedway as part of 2013 Speedweeks. By virtue of their wins earlier in the season, Kwasniewski and Self earned locked-in spots into the starting lineup for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series race at the event.
Michael Self and his team celebate in Victory Lane after winning the Casino Arizona 50 at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday. Getty Images for NASCAR