NASCAR Next graduates participate in Daytona 500

A total of 13 graduates and two current members competing over the weekend at Daytona International Speedway.

NASCAR Next graduates participate in Daytona 500
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Daniel Suárez , Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers Racing Ford
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am Duel 1
Corey LaJoie, BK Racing Toyota
Matt DiBenedetto, Go Fas Racing Ford
Erik Jones, Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Alon Day
Julia Landauer
Gary Klutt
Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Darrell Wallace Jr., Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Matt Tifft, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Noah Gragson, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota

In 2007, NASCAR lowered the minimum age to compete in its developmental series allowing drivers as young as 16 to compete.

This decision it opened the door for current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers such as Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, Austin and Ty Dillon to compete in what is now called the NASCAR K&N Pro Series as they started their NASCAR Touring Series careers.

All four of those drivers scored wins in NASCAR's top developmental series with Logano winning a series championship in 2007. A few years later NASCAR also lowered the minimum age to compete in a touring series again to 15 in 2011.

After Logano’s rapid rise to the NASCAR national series and Bayne’s historic win in the Daytona 500 in 2011, their early success at a young age brought an awareness to NASCAR to develop a program to help prepare young racers for success on and off the track.

Bayne's Daytona 500 win brought idea

After Bayne’s win, NASCAR began a program called NASCAR Next to identify and develop young drivers that were thought to possess the driving skills and marketing ability to make it up through the NASCAR Ladder system.

This year a total of 15 drivers to either graduate or still be a part of the program were scheduled to compete in one of the three NASCAR national series races scheduled this weekend at Daytona International Speedway.

If you include Alex Bowman driving last weekend in the Clash, a total of 16 drivers out of the 46 drivers that have been a part of the program since its inception will have competed during Speedweeks at Daytona.

Today, seven drivers – Chase Elliott (2012), Kyle Larson (2012), Corey LaJoie (2011-12), Daniel Suarez (2011-12), Ryan Blaney (2012), Erik Jones (2014) and Matt DiBenedetto (2011) – will all start in the Great American Race with Elliott starting from the pole position for the second consecutive year.

The program continues to grow and develop new talent each year with classes that range from nine the first season to 11 drivers this year.

According to Senior Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer Jill Gregory the program is meeting its projected objectives.

"The goal of the NASCAR Next program is to create visibility for young drivers who have shown talent and intangibles to climb the NASCAR ladder,” said Gregory. “And several NASCAR Next graduates — including Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney, along with rookies Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones — will compete in this Sunday’s Daytona 500, which is our sport’s biggest stage.

“We’re proud of these rising stars, along with several others who have achieved success in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and we look forward to watching their careers grow. NASCAR’s future is very bright.”

Suarez and Elliott have also won NASCAR Xfinity Series championships with Larson capturing his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory last year.

In Friday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, NASCAR Next graduates Noah Gragson, Ben Rhodes, John Hunter Nemecheck and Brett Moffitt all competed in the season opener.

Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race featured former program participants Darrell Wallace Jr., William Byron and Cole Custer and Matt Tifft, who returned to action late last season after brain surgery.

 Jones and Suarez also competed in the Saturday afternoon event.

The program is not designed to guarantee a driver a ride in a NASCAR national series, but if they land in a national series ride, they should be better prepared to help promote NASCAR and also give their sponsors value from the skills they’ve learned by participating in the program.

They'll also have more opportunities to meet with members of the press that should also help the industry as a whole - and especially the fans - learn more about these drivers while they compete in NASCAR’s national series.

The current NASCAR Next class features an international flavor with Alon Day, the first driver from Israel to be a part of the class, along with Canadian Gary Klutt who participates in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series.

Julia Landauer, the lone female of the class, competes in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West along with defending champion NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion and current class member Todd Gilliland.

Some drivers are pulling double duty in NASCAR initiatives as Collin Cabre is also a member of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program.

Later today all eyes will be on the seven graduates who've made it to NASCAR's top level and while Suarez became the program’s first graduate to win a national series title last fall with his NASCAR Xfinity Series title, maybe one of the seven can make history and become the first member of the program to win the Daytona 500.

2016-2017 NASCAR Next Class

  • Harrison Burton - NASCAR K&N Pro Series East
  • Collin Cabre - NASCAR K&N Pro Series East
  • Spencer Davis - NASCAR K&N Pro Series East
  • Alon Day - NASCAR Whelen Euro Series
  • Tyler Dippel - NASCAR K&N Pro Series East
  • Todd Gilliland - NASCAR K&N Pro Series East & West
  • Noah Gragson - NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
  • Gary Klutt - NASCAR Pinty's Series
  • Julia Landauer - NASCAR K&N Pro Series East
  • Ty Majeski - NASCAR Whelen All-American Series 
  • Matt Tifft - NASCAR Xfinity Series
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