|Jeb Burton at Texas Motor Speedway|
NASCAR Next, an evolution of the Next9 initiative that began in 2011, is an overarching industry initiative to help spotlight NASCAR’s rising stars – and bolster fan recognition around talent that will grow into NASCAR Sprint Cup Series mainstays. In addition to competing on various NASCAR series across the country, drivers in the program will participate in several media and promotional activities throughout the next 12 months.
“This program has made great strides in a short time,” said Jill Gregory, NASCAR vice president, industry services. “The evolution of NASCAR Next builds on that success with the influx of young, talented drivers continuing throughout all of NASCAR’s racing series. This program provides a platform to help foster their growth within our sport, and introduce these young and talented drivers to NASCAR fans who will likely be hearing more about them in years to come.”
This year’s NASCAR Next group ranges from 15 to 24 years of age, represents three countries and 10 U.S. states from Nevada to Connecticut. They have amassed 32 NASCAR touring series wins and one series title. The multicultural group represents a diversity in geography (10 different U.S. states, in addition to Canada and Mexico), with racing backgrounds from asphalt to dirt and open wheel to stock car.
The team was assembled through a thorough process that included separate nominating and voting panels. Drivers must be between the ages of 15-25, have tangible and expressed goals in eventual competition in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and possess the skill set to realize that goal.
Additionally, each driver in NASCAR Next must be actively competing in a NASCAR touring or weekly series – NASCAR K&N Pro Series East or West, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour, NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1, NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series, Euro-Racecar NASCAR Touring Series or NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competitors also are eligible providing they are in the first full-time season in their respective series.
Former NASCAR Next members who have moved on to success in NASCAR’s national series include Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kyle Larson and Darrell Wallace Jr.
The NASCAR Next members for 2013-14 are:
· Jeb Burton (20 years old, Halifax, Va.) – Four top-10 finishes in six NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts this season with three pole wins as a rookie.
· Chase Elliott (17, Dawsonville, Ga.) – A two-time Most Popular Driver in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East where he had a win and 15 top 10s and has two top-five finishes in three NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts this season.
· Gray Gaulding (15, Colonial Heights, Va.) – The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East rookie set series records for youngest pole winner and race leader in April at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
· Ryan Gifford (24, Winchester, Tenn.) – The NASCAR Drive For Diversity product became the first African-American driver to win a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East pole – Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in 2010.
· Cameron Hayley (16, Calgary, Alberta, Canada) – The NASCAR K&N Pro Series winner at inaugural UNOH Battle At The Beach at Daytona International Speedway in February is a K&N Pro Series West championship contender.
· Ben Kennedy (21, Daytona Beach, Fla.) – Has two NASCAR K&N Pro Series East wins in five starts this season and will make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut in August at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
· Dylan Kwasniewski (18, Las Vegas, Nev.) – The 2011 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Sunoco Rookie of the Year and 2012 series champion is competing for a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East title this season.
· Brett Moffitt (20, Grimes, Iowa) – Has 31 top-five finishes in 52 career NASCAR K&N Pro Series East starts and is among the series’ all-time leaders in wins and poles.
· Ryan Preece (22, Berlin, Conn.) – A two-time championship runner-up in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour with five career wins and 12 poles and is a top competitor in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series’ Modified Divisions in Connecticut.
· Ben Rhodes (16, Louisville, Ky.) – Has driven his NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model to podium finishes this year at the UNOH Battle At The Beach in Daytona and the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown in Richmond, while also making his NASCAR K&N Pro Series debut.
· Kenzie Ruston (21, El Reno, Okla.) – As a rookie, has three top-five finishes in five career NASCAR K&N Pro Series East starts and recorded the highest finish by a female driver in series history with a third-place effort in April at Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway.
· Michael Self (22, Park City, Utah) – As a relative newcomer to stock-car racing, he is a bona fide NASCAR K&N Pro Series West title contender and has four wins in last 13 series starts.
· Daniel Suárez (21, Monterrey, Mexico) – A product of the NASCAR Drive For Diversity program, competes full time with Rev Racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and is a title favorite in the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series.