NASCAR on Tuesday unveiled the nine members of 2018 NASCAR Next class, an industry-wide initiative designed to showcase rising young stars in racing.
This year’s group of emerging stars includes the rookies of the year in both the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West, as well the ARCA rookie of the year, a former USAC Midget Champion and Lucas Oil Off-Road Driver of the Year.
Four of the drivers – Hailie Deegan, Riley Herbst, Chase Purdy and Zane Smith – participated in the program last year.
“NASCAR Next highlights emerging talent who have shown the talent and intangibles it takes to achieve success at the highest levels or our sport,” said Jill Gregory, NASCAR executive vice president & chief marketing officer.
“Alumni of the program are currently making their marks across NASCAR’s three national series and we believe members of this year’s class have potential to do the same.”
The NASCAR Next selection process includes input from industry executives, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Drivers Council and media members, including Motorsport.com’s NASCAR Editor, Jim Utter.
Drivers must be between the ages of 15-25, aspire to compete in the Cup Series and show potential – on and off the track – to reach that goal.
Since its inception in 2011, 39 of the 51 drivers who have been selected for the Next program have progressed to compete in one of NASCAR’s three national series, including a quarter that have gone on to compete in the Cup Series.
The following drivers have been chosen for the 2018 NASCAR Next class:
Anthony Alfredo (@anthonyfalfredo) – Driving full-time this year for MDM Motorsports in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, Alfredo is also a student at UNC Charlotte. The 19-year-old Ridgefield, Conn., native recently competed in various late model divisions across the country, driving for JR Motorsports.
Hailie Deegan (@HailieDeegan) – The 16-year-old Temecula, Calif., native drives for Bill McAnally Racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. The daughter of FMX legend and Monster Energy athlete Brian Deegan, Hailie was the 2016 Modified Kart champion in the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series and was named the Lucas Oil Off-Road Driver of the Year.
Riley Herbst (@rileyherbst) – Herbst is running full-time for Joe Gibbs Racing in the ARCA Racing Series, where he won rookie of the year honors a year ago. The 19-year-old Las Vegas native captured his first big-track win last June at Pocono, along with six top-five and 10 top 10 finishes.
Derek Kraus – The reigning K&N Pro Series West rookie of the year, Kraus claimed his first win and a pole award, along with nine top-five and 10 top 10 finishes in 2017. Driving full-time for Bill McAnally Racing, the 16-year-old Stratford, Wisc., native has already captured a fourth-place finish at New Smyrna and a win at Kern County this year.
Chase Purdy – Purdy captured K&N Pro Series East rookie honors in 2017. The 18-year-old from Meridian, Miss., finished fourth in the standings last year, tallying five top-five and eight top 10 finishes. This year, Purdy is racing full-time in the ARCA Racing Series for MDM Motorsports.
Will Rodgers (@willrodgers65) – The 23-year-old Maui, Hawaii, native made two K&N Pro Series East starts in 2017 and won them both. Starting on the pole at the K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma, he finished runner-up to Cup driver Kevin Harvick. Running all 14 races out West, Rodgers notched nine top-five and 12 top 10 finishes, finishing fifth overall in the standings.
Zane Smith (@zanesmith41) – Smith, 18, from Huntington Beach, Calif., has captured his first two career ARCA victories early in 2018 (Nashville and Talladega). Smith finished ninth in the ARCA standings a year ago, posting two poles, seven top-five and 11 top 10 finishes. In his initial foray in the K&N Pro Series, Smith ran twice in the East, posting top-10 and top-five finishes, and once in the West, scoring another top-five.
Tanner Thorson (@Tanner_Thorson) – A former USAC Midget Champion, the 22-year-old Thorson brings his dirt racing experience as he prepares to run various Touring and Camping World Truck series races throughout the year. The Minden, Nevada, native also ran two ARCA races in 2017, claiming a top-10 finish in just his second series appearance.
Ryan Vargas (@The_Rhino23) – Hailing from La Mirada, Calif., Vargas is competing full-time in the K&N Pro Series East for Rev Racing. The 17-year-old finished third overall in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series for California in 2017, racking up two wins, 15 top-five and 23 top 10 finishes. Vargas is also a 2018 NASCAR Drive for Diversity class member.