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Unveil of 2018 NASCAR Drive for Diversity class marks emphasis on seat time

RELATED: 2018 Drive for Diversity Development Team official release

CONCORD, N.C. — At Rev Racing’s headquarters, with posters of distinguished NASCAR Drive for Diversity graduates lining the walls, NASCAR’s Jusan Hamilton and Rev Racing CEO Max Siegel introduced the six drivers in the 2018 Drive for Diversity Development Team.

The class is new, and so is the approach. By design, the number of drivers is smaller than in recent years, and that means more seat time for each of the participants.

Along with newcomer Ryan Vargas, 17, of La Mirada, Calif., Drive for Diversity veterans Chase Cabre, 20, of Tampa, Fla., and Ruben Garcia, 21, of Mexico City will compete full-time in the K&N Pro Series East, as well as augmenting their development with additional Late Model stock car races.

“We wanted to get the highest-caliber applicants,” Siegel told the NASCAR Wire Service. “We wanted to get fewer that we could evaluate, and then we wanted to give them one-and-a-half to two times the races they were getting. So we’ll be able to test, we’ll be able to run Late Models as well as K&N.

“We’ll be able to increase seat time, do a lot of the off-track training — whether it’s physical training, building on the psychological profile or doing a lot of the off-track commercial training. There’s more accountability and more consistent assessment, so we can tell the drivers where they are from week to week.”

In addition to the K&N Pro Series East drivers, the 2018 Drive for Diversity Development Team also includes 19-year-old Ernie Francis Jr. of Dania, Fla., who has four Trans Am Series championships to his credit and will transition from road racing to ovals by running K&N road-course events as well as select Late Model races.

Two successful Legends Cars drivers complete the group of six announced on Tuesday: Nick Sanchez, 16 of Homestead, Fla., who will graduate to full-time Late Model racing in 2018; and 13-year-old Isabella Robusto of Fort Mill, S.C., who was third overall in points in the Bojangles Summer Shootout Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway this year.

Robusto is the first of four drivers to be selected for Rev Racing’s Youth Driver Program and will continue her development in Legends Cars next year.

Cabre, who was sixth in the K&N Pro Series East standings and runner-up for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors this season, relishes the opportunity for additional time behind the wheel.

“I think it’ll be huge to run as many races as we’re going to run next year,” he said. “I think seat time is huge, and everyone in racing can tell you that. Whether it be in a Late Model or whatever you run, race craft is something you learn every single race.

“Racing Late Models, I think it’ll be really fun to go out there at South Boston and race against guys like Philip Morris and Lee Pulliam (both four-time Whelen All-American Series national champions). It can really teach you something about how to get around places and how to make passes. I’m excited to get out there to run with these guys.”

For Vargas, the selection to the Development Team brings stability to a racing career that has had its share of ups and downs, including working on his Late Models in his family’s garage.

“It means everything in the world to me,” said Vargas, winner of the 2016 Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award and runner-up for Josten’s Rookie of the Year honors for California in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. “I’ve gone all through the ranks from Bandoleros through street stocks and Late Models.

“And now moving up to the K&N Pro Series East has been an absolute dream of mine for the last two years. To have this opportunity to show what I’ve got in one of the higher levels of racing, with great teammates and great equipment — it’s unbelievable.”

And, of course, the aspirations don’t stop there. Now a decade old, NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program will feature three alumni racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next season — Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez and Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr.

“It’s so gratifying,” Siegel said. “And I can’t say enough about NASCAR’s commitment to the program, not only from a resource standpoint, but their focus and the professionals that lend their expertise, making sure that, as an organization, we’re healthy and growing — and the athletes are.

“This has really been a joint effort and a true collaboration and partnership. When I think back to 10 years ago, it really makes me feel good about where we are today.”

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