NASCAR Next a diverse, accomplished class
June 07, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
NEWTON, IOWA -- The differences are vast for the 13-member NASCAR Next group that was announced Friday at Iowa Speedway.
The age gap from youngest to oldest is nine years. Three countries and 10 different states are represented, with drivers hailing from such locales as Calgary, Alberta, Canada; Mexico, Nevada and yes, Daytona Beach, Fla.
There is one ingredient that binds this group that has been identified as the next crop of NASCAR’s rising stars, though -- they all know how to drive a race car.
The class members, who wore sharp gray NASCARNext T-shirts and posed for pictures with fans in Victory Lane, have racked up wins and accolades in various series, mostly either the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East or NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. In fact, most had to quickly change out of fire suits following K&N Pro Series East practice for the announcement.
Former NASCAR Next drivers Kyle Larson, Corey LaJoie and Alex Bowman watched the festivities from the side, standing there as tangible proof that some excellent drivers have been anointed as the sport’s next big things, and have held that mantle high with full-time rides in one of NASCAR’s three national series.
Expectations will also be high for this group, which includes the great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. (Ben Kennedy) and the first modified driver (Ryan Preece), among others.
“Honestly,” said 18-year-old Dylan Kwasniewski, “I think potentially we’ll all be racing each other in the Sprint Cup Series some day.”
Below is the 2013 NASCAR Next class:
Jeb Burton is no stranger to the spotlight. The son of Ward Burton and nephew of Jeff Burton grew up around racing, and he has translated that experience to the track as a 20-year-old rookie in the NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series. In six starts, he has four top-10s and three Keystone Light Poles. | Read Burton's full bio
Chase Elliott is another example of a multi-generation NASCAR family. The 17-year-old son of Bill Elliott won one race and added nine top-fives and 15 top-10s in 26 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East starts. He also has two top-fives in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this year.| Read Elliott's full bio
Gray Gaulding is the youngest driver in this year’s NASCAR Next class. The 15-year-old Virginia native has already set NASCAR K&N Pro Series East records for the youngest pole winner and race leader in April at Richmond International Raceway. | Read Gaulding's full bio
Ryan Gifford is the elder statesman of this group at the ripe old age of 24. A product of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity initiative (which has seen some of its past products excel on the national stage this year), Gifford was the first African-American driver to win a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East pole -- that came in 2010 at Martinsville Speedway. | Read Gifford's full bio
Another teenage driver, 16-year-old Cameron Hayley won the inaugural UNOH Battle at the Beach in February at Daytona International Speedway. He’s currently driving in the K&N Pro Series West series. | Read Hayley's full bio
Ben Kennedy’s history traces all the way back to the sport’s roots. Kennedy is the great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., and he’s keeping the family legacy alive by developing into one of the sport’s rising stars. With two wins already in the K&N Pro Series East, Kennedy will make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut in August at Bristol Motor Speedway. | Read Kennedy's full bio
Kwasniewski may be a familiar name, and it’s because this is his third consecutive year on the NASCAR Next list -- and he’s only 18 years old. The Las Vegas native was the 2011 K&N Pro Series West Sunoco Rookie of the Year and the 2012 series champion. | Read Kwasniewski's full bio
In 52 career K&N Pro Series East starts, Moffitt has 31 top-fives. He’s among the series’ all-time leaders in wins and poles.| Read Moffitt's full bio
Preece is the first modified driver to be named to the NASCAR Next list. He’s a two-time championship runner-up in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and has five career wins and 12 poles in the circuit. | Read Preece's full bio
At age 16, Rhodes made his NASCAR K&N Pro Series debut this year. He has podium finishes this year at theUNOH Battle at the Beach in Daytona Beach, Fla., and the Denny Hamlin ShortTrack Showdown in Richmond. | Read Rhodes' full bio
Ruston has stood out this year by producing some stellar finishes on some of the K&N Pro Series East’s toughest circuits. She has three top-fives in five career 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. | Read Ruston's full bio
Self is a late-bloomer, at least inNASCAR years. The 22-year-old has four wins in his last 13 starts in the K&N Pro Series West. | Read Self's full bio
Suarez is in the NASCAR Next program for the third consecutive year. The 21-year-old is another NASCAR Drive forDiversity product and competes full time with Rev Racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. Suarez, who is from Mexico, is also considered a title favorite in the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series. | Read Suarez's full bio